FSU’s Phenomenal Women

(Zae Valera was honored with the 2018 Phenomenal Woman Award. Photo by Cameron Grieves.)

Senior Zae Valera was announced as FSU’s 2018 Phenomenal Woman Award winner during the annual Phenomenal Woman Ceremony held in the McCarthy Center Forum on Tuesday, March 20.

The event was hosted by Associate Dean of Students David Baldwin. A record 77 women in the FSU community were nominated for the award.

“Phenomenal women are often thought to be famous or widely celebrated, like Ellen DeGeneres for her philanthropic work, Salma Hayek for being such a strong voice for the #MeToo movement and the #TimesUp movement, Michelle Obama for her work on health and fitness for kids and of course Oprah, because, well, she’s Oprah,” Baldwin said.

But we often get so wrapped up in celebrity that we forget to celebrate the phenomenal women in our everyday lives, according to Baldwin.

“The mother that works two jobs for her family, the teacher that goes the extra mile when you don’t understand the material, the grandmother that gave you a shoulder to cry on and gave you sage advice, or the friend that is always there to help. … When you put good in the world, you will get good back,” Baldwin said.

Baldwin encouraged the women in the audience to find their own truth and to project that truth out into the world.

A video reading of the poem “Phenomenal Woman,” read by its author Dr. Maya Angelou was projected at the front of the stage, which has become a ceremony tradition. No other voice can do the poem justice like Angelou’s, according to Baldwin.

“She has that voice that has such gravitas, it just makes you want to say, ‘Please, just speak for the rest of my life,’” Baldwin said to ripples of laughter.

The ceremony’s keynote speaker was Barbara G. Holland, the president, founder and CEO (Culturally Empowering Officer) of BreakThrough Partners, a consulting firm focusing on inclusion and diversity, organizational change, cultural competence, workforce effectiveness and workplace equity. She was also the first director of Campus Diversity at FSU back when it was still Framingham State College.

Holland stressed the importance of doing justice to the tradition of hard work and achievement that many women in the FSU community have inherited, referencing the work she had done as director of Affirmative Action at Framingham State College.

“I came to work here in 1986. A big thing to remember is you don’t work alone – you have working relationships, collaborations, partnerships. I was working with a great group of people here. We increased the enrollment of students of color, we got women on faculty-track positions, and before I left Framingham State, we hired our very first black tenuretrack faculty member, Dr. Robert Johnson, which was very exciting,” Holland said.

According to Corinne Hall Towers Area Director Johnny Hurley, Valera embodies the values of hard work and achievement expressed in the poem, and has done much to confront the spree of hate crimes targeting students of color that have plagued several residence buildings at FSU this year, including Towers.

“I first met Zae when she was a first year student in my Foundations Class back in 2014. As I predicted, she connected excellently with her residents, providing a voice to those in the community who often feel unheard. When the incidents of hate occurred in Towers and targeted one of her residents, Zae was there to console her residents and stayed at the forefront of being involved with educating the community about available resources. Zae exemplifies the phenomenal FSU woman,” Baldwin said, reading from Hurley’s nomination.

Assistant Director of Student Involvement and Leadership Development, and one of this year’s nominees, Jordan Peterson said, “It’s motivational to see my name on that list. It’s reassuring to feel welcomed when you’re new and that what you’re doing is having a positive impact.”

[Editor’s note: Elizabeth Banks is the Assistant Advisor of The Gatepost.]

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