America’s Next Top …June 06, 2008
What hundreds of students heard from the Women of Distinction award recipients at the 2008 National Conference for College Women Student Leaders (NCCWSL) was how privileged the speakers felt to be addressing America’s next generation of leaders. The five award winners talked about the importance of working as a team, making a difference in your own community, taking chances, pursuing your dreams, and remembering that anything is possible.
Award-winning journalist and Iraq war correspondent Kimberly Dozier discussed the importance of role models and shared stories about women in journalism who inspire her. She talked about the risks these women take as part of their job to report the news from war zones and remote areas of the world. While writing her recent book, Breathing the Fire, Dozier said she was surprised when people asked if her about the adversity she faced as a woman doing a “man’s job.” The question puzzled her until she started hearing other women journalists describe the obstacles they had to overcome to do their jobs. Dozier said she now considers herself an “ambassador for the amazing women” who bring us the news.
Andrea Brown-Philips attended the ceremony on behalf of Majora Carter, the founder of Sustainable South Bronx, an organization dedicated to environmental urban revitalization. In talking about the incredible work Carter has done to improve her South Bronx neighborhood, Brown-Philips described Carter as a “product of possibilities.” Quoting Carter, she said, “You should not need to move out of your neighborhood in order to live in a better one.” Carter believes that sustainable development in the Bronx is both feasible and worth doing and that it is a right, not a privilege. Her work demonstrates that taking care of your own community is an important place to start in making a difference in the world.
Retired Brigadier General Evelyn “Pat” Foote, a trailblazer for women in the U.S. Army during her 30 years of service, told students, “It’s amazing what happens in life when you take a chance.” In the 1950s, she said, the only jobs available to women were primarily secretarial. Foote found out that men and women starting out in the Army received the same pay and that “WAC officers do not type,” so she joined. Foote urged students to create their own destinies, as she did by taking advantage of the ever-increasing opportunities for women in the military. In closing, she reminded the students that the barriers they break down will one day help the next generation of women.
Maya Ajmera, founder and president of the Global Fund for Children, shared a similar story about how her career came about because she took a chance. Ajmera was headed for medical school when she received a fellowship allowing her to visit countries in Asia, an experience that exposed her to impressive activism on the local level. After watching a woman teaching 50 homeless children to read in a busy train station, Ajmera had a pivotal “moment of obligation” in her life. She decided to pursue a public policy master’s degree and start an organization to support grassroots organizations. Being young can actually benefit your career, she told the students, because it’s a great time to take big risks and pursue your dreams.
Jovita Carranza, deputy administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration and a former long-time UPS employee, stressed the importance of optimism, determination, and engaging in hard work to achieve goals in the business world. “Business gives you the opportunity; education gives you the relevance,” she said, highlighting the importance of both. She advised students to pursue opportunities that might seem like challenges, because the opportunity to see possibilities helps you succeed. She also recommended that students look to role models and mentors for help. With that kind of help combined with a solid education, she said, students will be able to achieve their career goals.
NCCWSL participants listened to the stories of these new role models, sharing their laughter, admiration, and support as the award winners described how they met challenges with humor, grace, and resolve. One student’s remark summed up the evening nicely: “I was so inspired.”
Photo highlights from the Women of Distinction Awards Ceremony