“And For God’s Sake, Don’t Cry”June 08, 2011
Well, I certainly didn’t pay heed to that advice from Connie Chung as I sat listening to an awesome set of women during the 2011 National Conference for College Women Student Leaders (NCCWSL). Although, in fairness, she was giving business advice to more than 500 students, not talking about the other tear-jerker stories that came up that night.
Every year during NCCWSL, AAUW and NASPA give Women of Distinction Awards to a select group of well-deserving women who either broke through barriers themselves or are helping others break through barriers on behalf of women and girls. It’s their personal stories that made me and, from what I could tell, most in the audience, shed a tear, give a gasp, or shake our heads at the examples of continuing discrimination women often still face today.
Swanee Hunt started the evening by dedicating her award to Bosnian War survivors (yes, my first tear), providing anecdotes from her award-winning This Was Not Our War: Bosnian Women Reclaiming the Peace and her most recent manuscript, Worlds Apart: The Bosnian Case in Pursuit of Global Security. “Fight for justice, not revenge. Power is in empathy,” she reminded us. The Eleanor Roosevelt lecturer in public policy at Harvard University, Hunt’s distinguished career ultimately led to her induction into the National Women’s Hall of Fame.
“Always show up, put your head down, and ignore the noise. If you do your job, people will have to recognize that,” Natalie Randolph advised the students. A native of Washington, D.C., and an accomplished high school and collegiate athlete, Randolph graduated from the University of Virginia in 2002. In 2010, Randolph was named the head coach of the Calvin Coolidge Senior High School varsity football team — becoming one of only a few other women football head coaches in the country. “Immerse yourself in whatever you are doing without fear,” she said.
“Stories empower us to find answers,” Marsha Guenzler-Stevens began as she told us her story. She has spent her entire professional career working in higher education (receiving numerous awards) and currently serves as the vice president of the board for the Vietnam Women’s Memorial Foundation. “The seeds of doubt are sown because we think we need to be flawless. Not true!” she eagerly told the students. “When you find your purpose, you will find your passion,” said Guenzler-Stevens, who is a marvelous example of that. Her passion for teaching and leading was very evident as we all sat spellbound — and laughing — through her stories.
“Do not trust other people to do it for you. If you wait for it, shame on you,” Lisa Jackson started off with a bang. The first African American to lead the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Jackson has made it a priority to focus on vulnerable groups, including children, the elderly, and low-income communities. “Trust in the passion you feel. Trust in the tough choices that you make,” Jackson told the students. She is someone to be listened to as one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world!
Long known for her award-winning journalism, Chung used humor to describe her first steps up the ladder, the “you can only have one Chinese cheerleader on the squad syndrome.” Chung holds four honorary doctorates and received the Amnesty International Human Rights Award for her report on young women in Bangladesh who were burned with acid in revenge for turning down men’s advances. One of five daughters, Chung told the students, “let people know who you are just by the way you walk into a room.”
An inspirational evening, my last tear of the day and my favorite quote came from a participating student: “I’ve doubted myself for too long, but that changes today.”