Saying Goodbye to Carol Virostek, an AAUW Champion Whose Legacy Lives OnSeptember 29, 2014
“You changed my life!” That’s what a group of college students kept saying as they surrounded Carol Virostek at the 2014 National Conference for College Women Student Leaders. These students attended the conference with the support of AAUW of Connecticut and their schools, and Carol was one of the reasons they were able to do so.
Carol hugged each of them, eager to hear about the new confidence and skills they gained from this experience. But more than anything each student wanted a picture with Carol, the person who made it possible for them to dream bigger.
This is one of the many stories in my mind as I remember Carol, who passed away earlier this month. Anyone who met her was struck by three things: her vision, her positivity, and her empathy.
Carol’s AAUW legacy runs deep. She served as AAUW’s College/University Committee chair from 2007 to 2014; she was part of AAUW’s Program Integration Committee; and she had a rich history in leading AAUW of Connecticut as state and branch president, state and branch program chair, and state and branch college/university relations chair.
Her vision for women’s equality was based in AAUW’s investment in the next generation of women leaders. Throughout my six years at AAUW, my work with our campus leadership programs would not have been possible without Carol. When AAUW discussed the future of college and university initiatives, it was Carol who rekindled the organization’s commitment to these programs.
Together, Carol and I paved the way to triple our college/university partner membership to nearly 1,000 schools and to add thousands of e-student affiliates to our AAUW membership. Together we worked to grow the National Conference for College Women Students Leaders from just over 400 participants in 2008 to nearly 1,000 in 2014. We guided thousands of college women into the AAUW community by strengthening our National Student Advisory Council, Campus Action Projects, and newer programs like $tart $mart and Elect Her.
Carol was the most positive person I’ve come across. She faced life’s ups and downs with a spirit of resilience and class. Carol’s daughter, Leslie Virostek, summed this up best during a speech she gave at the 2013 AAUW National Convention, when we surprised Carol with an endowment named in her honor. Leslie took to the stage and said, “This is her life philosophy: There is no challenge that can’t be overcome. All you need is a proactive approach, a way to include others, a positive attitude — and, of course, the appropriate item of clothing.”
Carol approached all of her work with empathy. In her interactions with members, staff, and students, she sought out ways to connect with others. She focused on others’ strengths and was the first to offer to be a sounding board and adviser.
I posted on my personal Facebook page about Carol’s passing and heard from people she’d inspired with kindness and mentorship all over the country, a testament to her connection to others.
Just like those students at NCCWSL this year, I get to say that Carol changed my life. She taught me to dream big and give generously. Her life reminds me, and us, to be grateful for the friendship, mentorship, and inspiration we find in each other through AAUW.