Honoring the Influential Women Who Inspire Us Wednesday, March 27, 2019, at 11:25 a.m.
To our Jacksonville University community:
As we approach the final days of March, Women’s History Month, and we celebrate tonight the naming of our outstanding JU Women of the Year, I’ve spent some time reflecting on the women who influenced, guided and enriched my own life.
Naturally, my mother first came to mind, as I’m sure it does for most people. We owe an enormous debt to the women who brought us into this world and prepared us to face life on our own.
Then my thoughts shifted to two people you may have heard me mention, because they were instrumental leaders in my career -- Eastman Kodak CIO Kathy Hudson and PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi. These are two incredibly intelligent, effective business executives with an unprecedented work ethic. In my eyes, there’s no question they established a blueprint of success for me in business. And they happen to be women.
I learned a great deal from working alongside such resourceful, innovative women. In particular, I learned the importance of building a talented team of people with different perspectives. We need women in leadership roles contributing their voices and viewpoints, and I’m proud that Jacksonville University is building a culture of strong women leaders. It makes us a better institution.
While I’m honored to call Kathy and Indra colleagues and friends, the two women who’ve had by far the most impact on my life are my wife and daughter.
Stephanie and I chose to raise our family in an idyllic Upstate New York town aptly named Fairport, where neighbors greeted each other during daily strolls down the lighted sidewalks of inviting suburban streets. This was before cell phones. We thrived there before selfies and social media and other inventions that shape our culture and our parenting today, for better or worse.
I’m thankful we didn’t have to overcome those challenges, but I doubt it would have mattered much. We felt right away that Melanie was remarkable. As an infant and toddler, she was sharp – incredibly aware of the world around her and drawn to engage with it. She was absolutely sunny. People couldn’t help but smile around her, and she never failed to see the upside in all situations. It was clear she had unbridled potential and resilience.
And I could not have chosen a better partner to raise a family. Equals in virtually every way, Stephanie and I committed ourselves full-on to parenting – pouring everything we had into creating a supportive, loving, and stimulating environment for our children to not just grow, but thrive.
Melanie was our first-born and our earliest, greatest project. We were intentional in our parenting choices, and we never limited her ambition because of her gender. Our family motto: talent, attitude and hard work will win. Your work ethic, character and skills -- these are the values that matter most. You can define your path and determine your happiness.
We encouraged her to set aside previous notions of a woman’s place. Ignore limits and barriers imposed by an unimaginative segment of society with out-of-touch ideals. We encouraged, and she earned, the same opportunities as any of her contemporaries, male or female.
When she was in middle school, Melanie decided she wanted to play baseball. Not softball – baseball. So we enrolled her in a Philadelphia Phillies baseball camp. She was thrilled to hit the diamond, and when I dropped her off the first day, I decided to stay and watch. It never occurred to me that all the players would be boys until I sat down in the stands and realized Melanie and the one friend she brought with her were the only girls on the field. And it didn’t bother her one bit. In fact, she seemed inspired, and later stroked a base hit off a talented pitcher who went on to earn a scholarship to play at Arizona State.
She went up against the boys, not because she wanted to prove something, but because she could. She believed in her own ability and was willing to work hard for what she wanted. From childhood to college and even now, that’s how she approaches everything. Work hard. Sharpen your talent. Uphold your integrity. Then, those invisible limits – those supposed glass ceilings – can be dented and eventually shattered.
She went on to carve her own path and found a perfect fit at Wake Forest, where she continued to break barriers by achieving Phi Beta Kappa recognition, while also launching a varsity club sports program for women. For me, Melanie embodies the hope I have for every Jacksonville University student.
I want our campus to be the place where you find your fit, blaze your trail, break your barriers – simply because you can and you’re able. Because you believe in yourself and you work hard. Because your gender isn’t an obstacle to overcome. It doesn’t define you, hurt you or hold you back. And it’s not what will benefit others, nor what people will remember about you. They’ll remember the impact you have, the values you live by, and the way you inspire others.
With thanks to all the talented and optimistic women who are helping make Jacksonville University much better,
Class of 1981