Symposium

A collection of women leaders, some participating to share and others to learn, gathered for the 2010 edition of the Whitman’s Women in Leadership Symposium, held  Oct. 28.

The panelists, invited by Whitman alumna Colleen Willoughby ’55, offered inspiration and advice to a group of Whitman students and community members.  Nearly 100 woman leaders have visited campus to share their insights since the symposium’s inception in the 1980s.  The panelists this year were:

•    Justice Bobbe J. Bridge, former Washington  State Supreme Court Justice, now founder of the Center for Children & Youth Justice
•    Barbara Thomas, executive director of the Northwest African American Museum
•    Dawn Trudeau, co-owner of the Seattle Storm, winners of the 2010 WNBA championship

Each of the panelists took a turn at the podium to share their own experiences, highlighting relationships with mentors, the importance of leadership by women in the community and the ability to take risks, before ending with a question and answer session.

“Women’s perspectives, their life experiences, the way we are socially and culturally wired bring added value to leadership skills,” said Bobbe Bridge.  “Also, the ability to make decisions with a unique kind of aspect because the roles you serve in our society bring a different and unique voice to the public good.  We are citizens of a democracy and we have an obligation to improve our communities.”

She, like the other two guests, has worked in several different fields throughout her career.  All three women emphasized the importance of making yourself “uncomfortable,” being willing to try new things and to being open to chance.
Barbara Thomas told the story of how as a young woman she was stopped on the sidewalk one day during her lunch break with an open invitation to attend college.  Although she was not planning on attending college, Thomas jumped at the chance, saying, “Life is an opportunity waiting to happen.”

Dawn Trudeau, a former Microsoft executive who never attended college, emphasized the importance of never playing victim, telling the audience that you always have a choice in the outcome of the situation and shared her favorite quote, by Anais Nin: “Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.” She also commended the students, saying they are getting “a world-class education” at Whitman.

The question and answer session included inquiries from students about the future of feminism, how the women would spend an extra four hours in their day and how they share responsibilities with their partners.

Student Jenni Doering ’14 said, “I think it is very inspiring to hear stories of such successful women and especially to hear that it’s okay to take risks.  I am not really sure yet what I want to pursue, but I’ve been taking  classes in subjects that I don’t know much about this year, and I’ve found it to be really exciting.  It is good to hear that reinforcement about taking risks and trying new things.”

“This is absolutely the time that you can and should risk trying things that maybe you think you wouldn’t be interested in.  It is safe to fail here and that is a good thing that you need to be able to do.  Try and fail and try again and to do something which is going to benefit you and ultimately your community.  This is a wonderful place, a wonderful campus, a wonderful time of your life,” said Bridge. 

—Ashley Coetzee