Not Your Typical Awards CeremonyJune 04, 2010
We’ve all been there — clapping madly while thinking of other things at local awards ceremonies, standing and cheering when it’s our daughter/son/spouse/friend’s turn. Well, last night’s AAUW/NASPA Women of Distinction Awards ceremony was one of those truly inspirational events where more than 500 attendees and dignitaries stood applauding and cheering many times throughout the night as the five women honored told their stories.
Christina Lagdameo, deputy director, White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, brought tears to our eyes as she openly showed emotion for the considerable obstacles, efforts, and ultimate achievements portrayed by the women honorees. Thanking her family for their continuous support, she urged the students to “plant seeds of peace, be responsible with your privileges, be bold with your every step.”
The next recipient, Marie Tillman, established the Pat Tillman Foundation to support veterans and military families after the death of her husband in Afghanistan. After describing her personal challenges following his death, Tillman shared her own “aha” moment with the students: “We have the choice to take control over how we react to experiences and make our actions positive.” As a #NCCWSL tweet put it so succinctly, “Marie Tillman’s story of using grief as catalyst for change is truly admirable & something that touches my heart in particular.”
As she accepted the award on behalf of Dorothy Height, Janice Ferebee of the National Council of Negro Women, told us how pleased Height had been to learn of her Women of Distinction Award shortly before her death. Height’s focus on “commitment, integrity, passion, power, and leadership” was something she would have wanted to impart to the NCCWSL attendees, Ferebee stressed, giving a wonderful portrayal of this inspiring civil rights leader and Presidential Medal of Freedom winner. Ferebee ended by wishing the students “a peaceful, purposeful, and powerful future.”
Listening to the amazing Patti Solis Doyle, partner, Utrecht & Phillips, speak of her “front row seat to history” working for Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama — well, she simply brought the house down. From her difficult beginnings (including being a college dropout at one point) to her campaign strategies as the first Hispanic woman to lead a presidential campaign, Doyle made it sound like something any one of the students listening could accomplish. “Value yourself, don’t embarrass yourself or your family, work hard, and watch over each other.” She ended with reminder for all of us: “In politics you need to be authentic to win. In life you need to be authentic to be happy.”
Last but not least, Nomfundo Walaza, CEO, Desmond Tutu Peace Centre, had us gasping as she described her 18-hour flight (she had just arrived this morning at 6 a.m.) from South Africa. Tired and helping another traveler, she was almost stopped by customs as she couldn’t remember what all the letters stood for AAUW/NASPA National Conference for College Women Student Leaders and Women of Distinction. “I was told it was simply called NCCWSL (nick-whistle).” Laughter erupted. Moments later, tears appeared as she told us the kind of women’s horror stories heard at the Tutu Peace Center. “Every 26 seconds in my country a woman is raped,” she said.
Walaza urged the students to lead with dignity, respect, and honor and stated, “There is a huge difference when women lead as women.” She also pointed out, “You can’t empower women to work without empowering the men they work with.” And her parting words: “I am because you are; you are because I am.”
The standing ovations for each speaker reflected the sense of honor we the attendees felt in their presence. As I milled around after, watching the students wait in long lines to meet these incredible women, I overheard repeatedly, “Wow, such inspiration! … I want to follow in their footsteps.” Jackie Geter-Hunter’s closing remarks sum up what we at AAUW feel: “Tonight we celebrate their stories, and tomorrow we’ll celebrate your stories.”