Tucked away in the northeast corner of Alabama is a small city named Scottsboro. Much like any small southern town, there are no strangers and everyone knows exactly who you belong to. Such was the case for Rachel Gross (’89, LD ’13), daughter of a high school English teacher and social event planner.
Early in her freshman year of high school, Gross was presented with an unexpected opportunity by her father -- the chance to attend Darlington as a boarding student.
“My dad really wanted me to have my own legacy and be my own person,” she explained. “My Darlington experience was a turning point for me as a human being. This was my first time living away from home, making brand new friends, doing my own laundry, creating a schedule and planning, and just generally being responsible. Through Darlington I learned how important relationships were at a young age. I learned how to follow through. I learned about community.”
While a student, Gross was involved in community service activities, soccer, twirling and drama. It was through acting in school productions that she got to know beloved and now-retired teacher David Powell, who directed the shows at the time.
“When Rachel first came to Darlington, she was as green as a blade of grass,” Powell said. “She would come to auditions and just put it all out there. She didn’t care if anyone thought her Alabama accent was funny, and she was never self-conscious of what she was doing. She was, and is, fearless.”
Gross says Powell helped her through one of the hardest times in her life. Her senior year, just eight weeks before graduation, her father passed away. Powell, along with the Darlington Community, supported her through her grief.
“David Powell changed my life,” she said. “When I was at my lowest point, he made sure that my Dar family was there for me. He organized a group and drove a van to the funeral. When my family was gathered at our home after the service, I found a note that he had written to me along with a copy of a script, telling me that a part that I had just auditioned for was mine and that rehearsal started Monday. It was the one thing that kept me moving through my grief.”
After graduating from Darlington, Gross went on to earn a B.F.A. from Stephens College in Columbia, Mo., where she was involved in both theater and communications.
“Darlington gave me experience with theater productions that were provocative and, while there, I developed a spirit of taking risks by working through challenges,” she said. “College was the next chapter in who I would become.”
After graduating from Stephens, Gross moved to New York City to begin her career in corporate event planning. She has held posts at cosmetics industry giant L’Oreal and MCI Worldcom. She has also served as vice president of corporate events and community relations at AOL, leading event efforts for AOL.com, AOL Advertising, Huffington Post, Moviefone, AOL Music, MapQuest, and others.
For the last six years, she has been senior vice president of event marketing for Univision Communications Inc., the leading media company serving Hispanic America.
“I am so proud of the work we’re doing at Univision because the sense of purpose in self comes to mind so much in what we do,” said Gross. “My work there supports Univision as an advocacy company and not just a media company. Univision was the only broadcasting company that was able to remain on the air during Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, allowing us to support them in tangible ways.”
In 2014, Gross joined Darlington’s Board of Trustees and currently serves as Advancement Committee chair and member of the Strategic Planning Committee.
“Jere Drummond (‘57) invited me to be a part of the Board and has continued to support and encourage me in that traditional Darlington way,” said Gross. “He’s reminded me that my unique experiences make me a trusted and valuable contributor if I would just be engaged and courageous enough to be vocal. Now they can’t get me to stop talking! Serving Darlington does more for me than I do for Darlington. What drives me is this precious opportunity that I have to help advance the Darlington experience and to help these incredible students that are entrusted to us.”
Powell is elated to see Rachel involved in this capacity. “Rachel represents the best of what we can do for students at Darlington,” he said. “She has the gift of framing questions that force you to do something to answer the question, and this will benefit Darlington for many years to come.”
As a boarding alumnae, Gross is also involved with Darlington’s Fairy DarMother Program, which connects her with current female boarding students.
“I am most excited about the opportunity that we have to support young women,” she said. “Darlington is an exceptional place for girls and I feel that this initiative brings me to the intersection of my desire to serve the school in a dynamic way and my ability to train high-performing teams. What truly excites me is that this chapter hasn’t been completely written yet.”