There is something appropriately symbolic in that the first beneficiaries of the KPMG Future Leaders Program are stepping into a global pandemic. These 15 young women know all about adversity and overcoming obstacles. And they represent a vast, barely tapped pool of talent that offers hope in a world desperate for new ideas and bold leadership.

When Inbee Park won the first KPMG Women’s PGA Championship in 2015 and when these 15 young women entered college in 2016 thanks to the Future Leaders Program, words like Covid-19, social distancing and contact tracing did not trend on social media. That this bold educational initiative bore it first fruit at this time amplifies its importance.

The sixth KPMG Women’s PGA was to be this week at Aronimink Golf Club near Philadelphia. But the pandemic pushed it to Oct. 8-11 when the best players in the world will compete for one of the top prizes in women’s golf and leaders from a wide variety of occupations will participate in the KPMG Future Leaders Summit.

When the LPGA and the PGA of America took their idea for a partnership to KPMG, the professional services and accounting giant liked the idea but to love it they needed more than a golf tournament. They wanted to use the platform of women’s golf to help talented females reach the top tier in business and science.

Thus was born the KPMG Women’s Leadership Summit, in which young women aspiring to reach the C-suite in business as well as science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) are mentored by those already there.

Revenue from the summit, which is conducted on-site during the KPMG Women’s PGA, and from the tournament itself has helped fund $2.68 million in scholarships – $10,000 a year for four years for 100 young women who, in high school, achieved academic excellence, showed community involvement and had a significant financial need.

On June 10, these 15 women who entered college in 2016 experienced another impact of the coronavirus – a virtual graduation. Attired in their caps and gowns, they listened to KPMG US Chairman and CEO Lynne Doughtie; KPMG Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer Michele Meyer-Shipp; Candy Duncan, Chair of the KPMG Women’s Leadership Summit and former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

“KPMG is passionate about developing women leaders at various stages of their careers and the KPMG Future Leaders Program is playing a powerful role in shaping future generations of leaders,” Doughtie said. “Through this initiative, we are paying it forward by investing in promising young women and instilling the confidence and leadership skills they will need to succeed and lead in college and their careers.”

Of the 15 recipients who entered college in 2016 and graduated this year, 10 are STEM majors and five majored in business. Their cumulative grade point average was 3.43 out of 4.0 and they came from households where the average income was $25,000 a year.

“I Know what you had to do to get here,” Dr. Rice said. “I know your stories individually and they are stories that will inspire others, so keep telling them and keep telling the kids that you meet, ‘This is for you, too. You can go to college. You can succeed and you can come out on the other side.’”

Many of the KPMG Future Leaders Program recipients have already been thrust into action by the global pandemic. Destiny Hernandez, who graduated this year from Stony Brook University as a Respiratory Therapy major, will go right to work in a hospital under a directive from New York’s governor that all respiratory therapy seniors graduate early and received an expedited license.

“The KPMG Future Leaders Program has been a major financial support to me, but also emotional and professional support for me,” said Emily Black, who majored in environmental engineering at Notre Dame and interned with a local government in New Zealand to help analyze water usage and energy efficiency.

“My KPMG mentor keeps me motivated and accountable,” said Ruby Smith, a Psychology and Sociology major at Indiana University.

When asked a leadership lesson she learned through the mentorship program, Shun Lei Sin, a Business Administration major at the University of California at Berkeley, said:

“The journey is as important as the destination. Often times, we dwell on achieving a certain result for an event or hitting the participation number for a social event we organize and, as a result, we forget to enjoy the process of creating that event or getting our desired achievements.”

Dr. Rice, who was born in Birmingham, Ala., and grew up in the racially segregated South, was raised by parents who were both educators. She went onto be the first African-American female to be Secretary of State and knows all about overcoming obstacles.

“And so congratulations on this day, congratulations and all the best,” she told the KPMG Future Leaders Program graduates. “God speed in the future. I know you will succeed because you already have succeeded. I’m so very proud of you and proud to have been a part of this program with Lynne and the KPMG family. You truly are future leaders.”

What began as an effort to elevate a women’s tournament achieved that goal brilliantly, but it has also had an impact far beyond golf. The first graduates of the KPMG Future Leaders program are already here. And they are ready to lead.