In honor of Women’s History Month, FSU celebrated six women who have made notable contributions to the communities they serve during its first Women Making History Now award ceremony on Tuesday.
The six honorees include Massachusetts State Senator Karen E. Spilka, Attorney and former First Lady of the State of Massachusetts Diane B. Patrick, Provost & Vice President of Academic Affairs for FSU Linda Vaden-Goad, Interim President of MassBay Community College Yves Salomon-Fernandez, Executive Director of Leadership MetroWest Helen Lemoine and Chief Philanthropy Officer for Tri-County United Way Jen Maseda.
Sean Huddleston, chief officer of diversity, inclusion and community engagement, said, “We are here tonight to recognize our own. We need to do that more often, and this was an opportunity to do that.”
He added the honorees are women who have made “significant contributions to our lives, to their professions and to our community.”
President F. Javier Cevallos said, “We have come a long way in terms of recognizing the work of everyone and the role that women play in our society. We have certainly made significant strides, but as you know, we still have issues with equal pay and equality of women. We don’t have enough women in corporate boards. We don’t have enough women CEOs of corporations. There is still work to do. So recognizing the great achievements of the women that are here today is also a reminder that we have to do a little more to make sure that all women, that everyone, have opportunities to achieve as much as they can.”
Cynthia Nelson, a junior, introduced honoree Spilka and presented her with her award. She described the work Spilka has accomplished with educators, the elderly and disabled communities and children.
“As a University that has served as a pioneer and champion of public education, it is fitting for Framingham State to honor a public servant who has greatly served these populations,” said Nelson.
Spilka said she was “humbled and honored” to be among “so many amazing women.”
She said when she wakes up in the morning, she asks herself, “‘How can I help people today?’
“In the course of helping people, I have really been privileged to have learned something about leadership and worked with so many wonderful leaders. Leadership begins when you realize all of our fates are intertwined – that we rise together, and that we fall together. When it comes down to it, leadership is most effective when it comes from a place of understanding, compassion and humility for yourself and for others.”
She added her “number-one piece of advice to any woman out there who hopes to make history one day is to listen carefully to the experiences, needs and concerns of others” and to “follow and trust your gut, and follow and trust your instincts. Be strong, but be kind. Be smart and never let anybody question your ability to make a positive contribution to your community.”
As Spilka continues with her work in the legislature and senate, she said, “I look forward to celebrating more women in the Commonwealth who are living their values, following their hearts, working hard and making history.”
Spilka told a Gatepost reporter she is “very honored” to receive the award and “it’s wonderful to be sharing it with the other five women who have been recognized as well as the whole community. We’re all in this together. … We can only accomplish all the wonderful things that we’ve accomplished by working together.”
Paola Florencio, a junior, introduced honoree Salomon-Fernandez as “a role model who empowers women everywhere” and presented her with her award.
Salomon-Fernandez said, “We are celebrating six women tonight, but really we have a room full of women who could … be here where I’m standing tonight.”
She added, “Tonight, we celebrate not just the six of us who are receiving the honors, but we celebrate all of you for all of the work you do every day – all of the work that you do that might not be noticed by all of us, that may not get awards but that is just as impactful as what the six of us do here every day.”
Most young girls are discouraged from pursuing STEM fields for careers by middle school, said Salomon Fernandez, adding, “For those of you who have daughters and sisters in the room … I do encourage you, if you see a girl who has a passion or interest in the STEM disciplines, please encourage them and let them know you’re here supporting them. They need all the support they can get.”
Salomon-Fernandez discussed an intiative called Moving the Needle, which is “aimed at achieving parity in terms of the number of women who are in senior leadership roles in higher ed.”
She said, “One of the things we hear very often from women is that unlike their partners, they are unable to move geographically to pursue other opportunities.
“As we are all women leaders in this group, I encourage you to think about opportunities as they open, to think about the women on your campuses – to think about cultivating those women, to think about supporting them once they get into those roles, especially those who come from very low social capital. They will need support to be successful, and it really is upon all of us to make sure they succeed. When they succeed, our institutions succeed as well,” she said.
She told a Gatepost reporter that for her, “as a young girl coming from the poorest country in the western hemisphere, this is an award not just for me, but for everybody who has helped me to get to where I am, and to be able to make the impact that I can, and to pay it forward for other girls, other boys and soon-to-be male allies. I am honored.”
Avarie Cook, a senior, introduced honoree Vaden-Goad and presented her with her award. She said Vaden-Goad is “clearly one for progressiveness and … the improvement of society as a whole.”
Vaden-Goad said nothing quite matches being “honored in your own home.”
She added, “Of all the good things that have happened to me in my life – and there have been many and this is one of them – nothing has been more meaningful or important to me than sitting with my students in my office and listening to them talk about their lives – what has brought them to that moment in time and what they hope for in their futures.”
As an administrator, Vaden-Goad said her impact is “more in making sure the values, resolve and resources are there to support the vibrant and meaningful educational environment that we promise.”
She said to keep in mind how “time, listening and compassion remain important in every role and interaction, and how opportunities that are within the realms of our responsibilities need to be accessible, always increasing and equal for all.”
Hannah Johnson, a junior, introduced honoree Maseda as an “inspiration to young women, such as myself, and children all over the world,” and presented her with her award.
Maseda said when she heard she was receiving the award, she was “overwhelmed with emotion.”
As a first-generation natural-born American and college student, Maseda said her parents provided her with the “gifts of strength, perseverance, patience and the notion that what you work for is what you get.”
Maseda has spent her career “on a mission of affording people the means to achieve great expectations, paying special attention to the unique needs of women and girls.”
Her work “always has a focus on eliminating issues facing women and girls.”
She said, “Equality is about access to opportunity, but not a guarantee of outcomes or achievement.” She used racers lined up on a track as an example. She said if all the racers were equal, they would be starting on the same line, but the inside racer would have a short distance to run. Equity means staggering the racers so the distances are all equal.
“Getting equal access to the starting line to the race of life is critical. You can’t have equity without equality, but I believe in equitable standing earned by unique, not equal, contributions we each make,” she said.
“The difference between equality and equity is extremely important to our work and the future direction of our women’s movement,” she said, adding she believes the time has come for women to restructure and redefine their visions in order to create a new world for women and men “based on a woman’s experience and their skills as a person, a unique stakeholder and professional peer.
“I don’t want to be treated equally to a man,” Maseda said. “I want to be treated like a dedicated, effective leader who works for equal access and the fairness and justice of equity for all.”
Maseda told The Gatepost in an email, “Establishing an award that recognizes local women leaders is a gift to our community and to the women who work and live here. Every experience we have, every person that steps into our path is present in our lives to teach us something. Being recognized as a Women Making History Now by Framingham State University, Dr. Cevallos and Dr. Huddleston has touched me deeply and I will never forget this great honor.”
Luisanna Castillo, a sophomore, introduced honoree Lemoine as someone who “goes the extra mile to ensure women and girls are heard and given the tools they need to succeed,” and presented her with her award.
Lemoine said she is “filled with gratitude” to be a recipient of the Women Making History Now award and is in “total awe” of the women with whom she shares the award.
She said her professional and civic life has given her “enormous personal satisfaction” and being acknowledged for her achievements is “a real joy.”
Once you volunteer, she said, you become a “marked woman with a giant scarlet V on your chest.” Requests kept coming in for her, and volunteering and nonprofits became her passion.
She said she learned “working hard for something we don’t care about is called stress. Working hard for something we love is called passion.”
To Leomoine, the greatest contribution a leader can make “is to help inspire new leaders who go on to help inspire another generation of leaders.”
The award “will forever be a milestone in my leadership journey,” she said.
Lemoine told The Gatepost in an email that “being recognized with this award in the company of five other exceptional women who I admire is moving for me. … I am grateful to Framingham State University and humbled to be a recipient of the inaugural Women Making History Now award bestowed by this historic institution.”
Pat Tettah, a senior, introduced honoree Patrick, who wasn’t able to be present for the event, and accepted the award on her behalf.
Patrick told The Gatepost in an email, “I am honored and humbled to receive this recognition and am sorry only that I cannot be present to receive the award and give thanks in person.”
Freshman Kayla Walters, sophmore Renae Austrie and sophmore Monet Johnson sang “Video,” by Indie Arie, concluding the ceremony.
Lorretta Holloway, vice president for enrollment and student development, said the ceremony reminded her of the women who have helped her make decisions in her life.
“As all of you know, those decisions aren’t always very easy. You have to make different kinds of choices. … But it is those kinds of choices that make an impact not only in our own homes but in our community,” she said.
In the words of her grandmother, Holloway said, “Often, women don’t understand the difference between being liked and being respected. … Sometimes, we have to choose … and it is often better to be respected than to be liked,” adding being liked can be associated with a “patronizing” or “condescending” effect.
She thanked “all the women here, not just the awardees, but all the women here who do that – who remember that sometimes it’s better to be respected than to be liked. They’re an inspiration to the rest of us.”