FSU celebrates Women’s History Month with Women Making History Now ceremony

Ashley Wall / THE GATEPOST

The fourth annual Women Making History Now event honored six recipients with awards, recognizing them as strong women making their mark in history March 25.

The six nominees were Margareth Basilio Shepard, Amy Brown, Audrey Hall, Ayanna Pressley, Patricia Sánchez-Connally, and Courtney Thraen.

Attendees gathered to celebrate Women’s History Month and the accomplishments of women in the community. The event was attended by President F. Javier Cevallos, Framingham Mayor Yvonne Spicer, and friends and family of the nominees. 

Millie Gonzalez, interim chief officer of diversity, inclusion, and community engagement, welcomed the crowd in her opening remarks.

“We are privileged to welcome to Framingham State six dedicated and exemplary women and their families,” Gonzalez said.

Gonzalez then welcomed Cevallos to the stage, where he thanked attendees for coming and congratulated the six award winners.

Cevallos said that four years ago, this awards ceremony was just “a glimmer of hope” and he is glad that the tradition has continued.

“One of the things we have been working really hard on in the last few years is making Framingham State not that little tower on the hill, but part of the community. … This is one of those absolutely wonderful days in the year when we come together as a community to celebrate the achievements of these incredible awardees,” Cevallos said.

Each of the six award winners was nominated and introduced by a member of the FSU community.

The first recipient of the award was Margareth Basilio Shepard. She is an advocate for the Brazilian community in Framingham and became City Councilor in 2017.

Shepard’s experience in the MetroWest and Boston communities includes assisting people with citizenship and DACA applications, and serving as both a town meeting member and commissioner for the MetroWest Commission on the Status of Women.

Shepard took the stage in the Forum to thank everyone for her award. She addressed the crowd by advocating for the combination of the best parts of Brazilian culture and the best aspects of life here in the United States.

“That combination is what makes us better,” Shepard said.

On the subject of responding to racist incidents on FSU’s campus and in general, Shepard said that action is key.

“My voice is for every government, every town, every city to act and not only speak,” she said.

Amy Brown is an elementary school art teacher at Hemenway Elementary in Framingham. When Brown accepted her award, she recounted the events that took place at her school that motivated her to begin a kindness project with her students.

“Recently there was an incident at my school where some hateful notes were written to a 10-year-old Muslim student, and I saw her classmates and herself and all the staff understandably and visibly upset,” Brown said.

She said many students and faculty were struggling with their feelings and how to process the event.

“A lot of them wanted to write notes but didn’t know exactly the right words to say. I’ve felt that way, and in the past, the solution for me sometimes comes without written words through art. So, I kind of threw away my schedule for that week, threw away the curriculum, and came up with another plan that I really felt in my heart was more important,” she said.

Brown encouraged students to create artwork to express how they felt and spread kindness through the community. This project expanded to include parents, staff members, and community members.

Brown said her students came up with the hashtag #HemenwayKindness and covered the school with their artwork.

“I think nowadays with social media and screens, it’s easy to forget that our words really are important and there’s a real person on the other end,” said Brown.

Audrey Hall of “The Audrey Hall Show” on Access Framingham T.V., was the next award recipient, was the first female general manager of Framingham Cablevision and shared her story of perseverance in her career.

She said her mother passed when she was just 6 years old of a heart infection that could have been treated had her doctor taken her mom’s symptoms seriously. This turned Hall’s life upside down and taught her how to advocate for herself.

Hall shared the many highlights of her life and career, which included how she had to fight for equal pay as a woman promoted to a senior management job.

“I was outraged. … They reduced the pay by $15,000 and told me to take it or leave it. I took it, but I persisted until I finally got the same pay, and more,” she said.

This is just one of the many gender-bias challenges Hall has overcome.

U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley was the next woman to receive an award. Pressley could not be at the event herself, but her civic engagement manager attended to accept the award on her behalf and read remarks written by the congresswoman.

“Some people have referred to this time as a blue wave or a women’s wave, and as I take a moment to reflect, I realize that this is not a moment. This is a movement,” Pressley wrote.

El Salvador native, Patricia Sanchez-Connally was the next to receive an award and tell her moving story.

The next award recipient, Patricia Sánchez-Connally, immigrated to the U.S. at just 11 years old, and has grew up to become a professor, academic counselor, and program coordinator. She also organized a trip to Texas where students participated in the Border Awareness Experience.

“I’d like to share with you something I have learned from all the strong women in my life,” said Sánchez-Connally.

She went on to explain how an El Salvadorian slang term that loosely translates to “will not let whatever it is belittle you, chain you, keep you down, have no fear,” has impacted her life.

Sánchez-Connally heard the women in her life use this phrase as she was growing up, and it shaped her to be the strong-willed person she is today.

“It is that same attitude and belief, and valued knowledge, that when faced with tremendous losses, reminded me that I am alive, and that I must be courageous and face a level of pain that has now become part of who I am,” she said.

Sánchez-Connally ended her acceptance speech by sharing what she learned during her trip to the border in Texas, and explaining how easy it is to turn the other cheek at all that is wrong in the world.

“I’ve learned that denial is for cowards,” she said.

The final nominee to be recognized was Courtney Thraen.

Thraen thanked the audience via webcam for her award. The Navy veteran is the executive director at the non-profit organization Downtown Framingham, Inc.

Thraen explained how she overcame her insecurity as a leader throughout her life. She knew confidence was necessary to make a difference in her community.

“With confidence and collaboration, it’s really doable to make it happen for our community. … We can do it together and show tangible results. And with confidence and compassion, together we can defend and protect the reputations of those who live and work in our cohesive downtown,” Thraen said.

Following the words of all six awardees, State Rep. Maria Robinson presented them all with citations before giving her own remarks.

“One of the things that really excites me about all of the women being honored today is that quite a few of you, myself included, are not Framingham natives. We weren’t born here but we chose to live here in Framingham, and I think there’s got to be something in the water, something exciting about Framingham that says, ‘Hey strong, brilliant women, come to Framingham,’” Robinson said.

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