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American Council on Education Women's Leadership DinnerAmerican Council on Education Women's Leadership Dinner
Remarks after Receiving Award, President Emerita Peggy Ryan Williams

Washington, D.C., February 7, 2009

I am honored beyond what words can describe to receive the Donna Shavlik Award.  I cannot let this occasion go by without some comments. It is a special honor to be the first recipient to receive this award under the tenure of the first woman president of the American Council on Education (ACE).  I met Molly [Corbett Broad, president of the ACE] through the Office of Women in Higher Education (OWHE) when she was in California and I was in Vermont.  Congratulations, Molly.

Presidents are often asked to "keep it short" so I am well-trained.

In 1936, Mrs. Lorraine Williams, my late mother-in-law, ABD at NYU, had to quit her job as a public school teacher in Yonkers because she was pregnant.  In 1989, about 50 years later, I was appointed the president of Lyndon State College--some things have changed for women.

In 1973, ACE established the OWHE to support and promote the advancement of women in higher education, believing that the office would be needed for a few years.  Here we are in 2009. Some things still need to change.

A few reflections:

1.  Throughout my 36-year career in higher education, ACE has been an organization that I have respected highly and have come to depend on in many ways.  I was fortunate to have connected with OWHE through the Vermont statewide network program, at the early age of 32. I then moved on to become the statewide coordinator, a participant and then a resource for the National Forum program, a member and eventually chair of the Commission on Women, and a member of the ACE board.  All of these experiences expanded my horizons professionally and personally, introduced me to wonderful people whom I would not otherwise have met, and taught me a great deal.

2.  I grew up in a culture of strong support and encouragement for girls at home and in school.  I attended all-girls’ schools until I went to college.  The environment encouraged me to develop my interests and talents, and then to put them to work in socially responsible ways.  I knew only women teachers, administrators, and class presidents, and never knew cheerleaders.

Upon leaving this bubble or wonderful incubator, I learned that the messages conveyed to me were not the experience of every woman.  I decided to do whatever I could to encourage women to realize their potential with confidence, and also to tell the world about the extraordinary potential of women to make significant contributions and to be leaders.  There were numerous avenues for pursuing this interest and the OWHE programs were a natural outlet and forum for me, from Vermont to the national arena.  The outlet was a natural one. My intentions were deliberate.

3. Tonight I want to thank those who nominated me for this award and those responsible for my selection. Thank you, Donna Shavlik, for your stellar leadership of OWHE for so many years.  Thank you, Donna, for the confidence you exhibited in me, by affording me the opportunities with OWHE over the years.  I look forward to continuing to serve in any way I can.

I also want to thank all my friends and colleagues who are here tonight and those absent who have sent good wishes. I could not have done any of this without your support and friendship.  We have had a lot of fun!

Thanks to David Williams, my husband of 39 years--how did I get to be this old?  David, the most ardent feminist I know, cannot be here tonight.  He is back in British Columbia with our 10-month-old puppy, encouraging her to develop her potential to its fullest.

I will end with the words of Elizabeth Cady Stanton:"Social science affirms that a woman's place in society marks the level of civilization."

We have come a long way. We still have much work to do, and we must do it.

Thank you.