Six outstanding women honored at the Women Making History Now ceremony

FSU honored six exceptional women with the Women Making History Now Award at a virtual event organized by the Center for Inclusive Excellence and the Office of Diversity, Inclusion, and Community Engagement March 23. 

The award recognizes women in leadership who have made significant contributions to their professions and communities and have also served as role models. 

The Women Making History Now ceremony has become an annual event held since 2016 during Women’s History Month. The event was canceled last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. There are 24 past recipients.

This year’s honorees included Colleen Coffey, Dr. Beverly Edgehill, Patricia Hohl, Tiffany Lillie, District Attorney Rachael Rollins, and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito.

President F. Javier Cevallos, Framingham Mayor, Yvonnne Spicer, and members of the FSU community were there to celebrate the achievements of the honorees. 

To welcome guests, Cevallos said, “We know that throughout history, the work of women was never recognized … We want to do the opposite. We want to recognize the women that are making the work now, that are an inspiration for our society – for our community.” 

Spicer congratulated the women on their successes, saying she was honored to bring them greetings from the City of Framingham. 

“In the words of Coretta Scott King: Women, if the soul of the nation is to be saved, then I believe you must become its soul,” Spicer said. 

“Women have contributed to every facet of society, and each day we shatter glass ceilings to step into our power,” she added. “I stand on the shoulders of many women, and their efforts have afforded me a place in time. The space I occupy in history motivates me to lift up the generation behind me.” 

Spicer closed her speech by saying her expectation is to make sure women are doing their best. 

Coffey was the first to accept her award. 

Coffey is the executive director of the MetroWest College Planning Collaborative (CPC). The CPC’s goal is to build educational opportunity and success for all students and families. 

Upon accepting her award, she thanked President Cevallos, her family and the 12 women she leads at the CPC. 

With her leadership, the collaborative has grown from one member to 15 and is now serving 500 “underserved” students from eight different school districts. 

Coffey’s career started in Latin America directing community development and educational projects and she then taught at Marquette University. She also founded the Virtual Dual Immersion Project where 14 universities in Latin America and the United States engaged in collaborative learning partnerships. 

“It’s been an incredible pleasure to grow as much as I have as executive director of the CPC,” she said. “It’s a role where I feel I have gotten to use everything I have ever learned and experience toward the greater good of the community.” 

She added that as a woman there are three fundamental skills that she and the women at the CPC use on a daily basis – imagination, persistence, and translation. 

Coffey said at the CPC, they value translation because many of the 12 women speak second or third languages and come from different cultural and ethnic backgrounds. She said most of what they build is not easy to fit and it “certainly doesn’t belong in a traditional way.

“Imagination is underrated. We never stop seeing what is there, what could be or should be there. We are constantly fighting for what should be,” Coffey said. “Persistence – there are always 10 reasons to not continue a project but we always find a way to make it happen.”

Edgehill’s work has been in transformative leadership, and organizational strategies. She is a former panelist for the White House Fellows program and she has most recently been honored by the Women of Harvard Club as one of Boston’s Influential Women.

She has also led the leadership development organization, The Partnership, Inc. as president and CEO where she designed “revenue generating talent management and leadership solutions” and has also collaborated with Harvard Business School to develop leadership development programs. 

She said the award reminded her that “life is a journey [and] all of us have to make our way by walking.” 

Edgehill also said success is about having an impact. 

Over her journey, she said has come to demonstrate five key themes – knowing your mindset, going from strength to strength, leveraging disorienting moments, that you don’t walk alone, and keeping perspective. 

“Often we live in a zero sum society,” Edgehill said. “Oftentimes our orientation is looking at the things we don’t do well.” 

She added, “Although it is important to understand what your weaknesses or your opportunities are, it is equally important to understand what your strengths are and build on those and seek to go forward.” 

Edgehill said that some of the most powerful lessons have come from leveraging disorienting moments.

“It’s one thing to have a plan or set out to achieve goals but guess what – sometimes things happen,” she said. 

She shared that along the way to success, her intentions have been met with opposition, including people who have claimed she was not qualified. That set her back. However, she said, “We can always leverage those disorienting moments, we can learn from them – and pull out the silver lining.” 

Hohl is an attorney with over 20 years of nonprofit management experience and is the director at Voices Against Violence in Framingham, a service to protect people against sexual and domestic violence. 

Prior to directing Voices Against Violence, Hohl received her J.D. from Suffolk University, worked as a national training and technical assistance provider as part of an Office on Violence Against Women, and served on the MetroWest Commission on the Status of Women.

Upon accepting her award, Hohl highlighted the importance of the work done at Voices Against Violence. She said people on the front lines of the office are “quite literally saving lives.

“A big part of the work is making history now aspirational where we imagine a world without violence,” Hohl said. “We also work to change the cultural norms that support oppression and violence in our society. 

“At [Voices Against Violence] if we have helped one person be more safe, then that is what matters, then we are making history now,” she added. 

Tiffany Lillie serves as the director of Community Resource Development for Framingham Public Schools, where she manages the Out of School Time Program for 2,500 students and 200 employees. The department works with 30 local non-profits. 

Before working at Community Resource Development, Lillie worked with YOU, Inc., YWCA, Girls INC., and the City of Cambridge. 

She said she is passionate about Out of School Time. “I think it gives [students] time to find what they are passionate about and discover their interest, try and fail, and keep going. That for me is what leadership is about.” 

Lillie said that when she was 18, her first supervisor told her that she needed to find a way to make space at the table because no one would hand it to her. She said it’s not about making space for yourself at the table, it’s about relationships and the decisions that happen at the table when you’re with others. 

Lillie also emphasized the importance of moving away from the idea of the perfect leader. “At the table where decisions are made, authenticity is great. Being a leader is knowing when to step up and step back,” she said. 

Taking office in January 2019, Suffolk County District Attorney Racheal Rollins is the chief law enforcement official for Boston, Chelsea, and Revere, and is also the first woman of color to hold the position in Massachusetts. She oversees approximately 35,000 cases per year. 

With a pledge to correct racial and ethnic disparities, and reduce incarcerations, Rollins implemented a policy of dismissing or diverting certain low-level misdemeanor charges. Acknowledging that these offences are not typically of criminal intent, but of mental illness, she seeks to provide them with treatment, while holding them accountable. 

Though Rollins was unable to attend the ceremony, a pre-recorded speech was presented. 

She said that just as Black history is our country’s history, and cannot be relegated to one month, women’s history is also our country’s history. 

Rollins added women all have their own perspectives, and she cannot speak for all women. “This is why we each need to lead because who we are will always inform what we do.”

She said that she believes women have a tremendous capacity to lead and that “empowered women empower women.” 

She referenced Kamala Harris as the first female vice president and said she’s sure Harris feels the great “magnitude” and “responsibility” of that achievement. “You don’t shatter glass ceilings without getting a few cuts.

“As Suffolk’s first woman D.A. and Massachusetts’ first woman of color D.A., I feel the pressure. I feel the pressure of enacting the change I promised. I know the stakes are high,” Rollins said. “But, I take comfort knowing women have a unique ability to drive for change.” 

Unfortunately, Rollins’ speech disconnected due to technical difficulties before she finished. 

The last recipient, Karyn Polito, the 72nd lieutenant governor of Massachusetts began her second term in January 2019 working alongside Gov. Charlie Baker. Her work focuses on bipartisanship, housing production, improving bicycle lanes and sidewalks, and addressing climate change. 

Polito is also the chair of the Governor’s Council to Address Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence and co-chair of the STEM Advisory Council to inspire students to follow paths into those careers. 

She noted the Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence Council has intiated a public awareness campaign that is “aimed at helping young people – in particular girls – understand what a healthy relationship is to better prepare them for the next steps in life. 

“During this pandemic, when more people have been quarantined and isolated, and tied more to their home – for those individuals who are in a violent relationship, it has been particularly challenging,” she added. “We continue our efforts there.”

Polito also highlighted a $720 million fund that was given to 13,000 small businesses, many led by women. She said they put “all their blood, sweat, and tears into their dreams to make sure they can get through this challenging time,” she said. “Women-owned businesses are a big part of the fabric of our commonwealth.”

Polito also thanked FSU for being a partner to the STEM Council in helping students understand the importance of STEM education and participating in forums.

“Tonight as we come together, we are looking for more ways where we can empower women to find the very best opportunities to make sure their future is as bright as it can be,” Polito said.