American Council on Education Women's Leadership Dinner

Washington, D.C., February 7, 2009

It is my great pleasure to present the Donna Shavlik Award to Peggy Williams, president emerita of Ithaca College. I do so on behalf of many women who have been supported, encouraged, and mentored by Peggy. I do so in partnership with Lisa Ryerson, president of Wells College, who co-nominated Peggy, and Victoria Angis, assistant dean for campus life at Castleton State College in Vermont, who also nominated Peggy for this award.

Peggy's support of women has been a constant throughout her career, in such varying roles as vice president of the board of the Vermont YWCA; board chair of Sacred Heart School of Montreal; founding director of the Vermont Women's Fund; commission chair of the American Council on Education (ACE) Commission on Women in Higher Education; member of the ACE board of directors; and member of the Executive Committee for Gender and Diversity of the National Collegiate Athletic Association.

Perhaps nothing was more notable, however, than her one-on-one support of individual women. She continually found funds to sponsor a woman to leadership opportunities such as Higher Education Resource Services (HERS) or an ACE Woman's Leadership Forum. She always made time for a cup of coffee and a career chat--one instance of the latter took place earlier today, in the hotel lobby!

There are three tables of men and women here tonight who identify themselves as "Peggy's Pals", and I know that they will agree that I must not merely introduce Peggy Williams with a "standard" intro tonight, for Peggy is not a "standard issue" kind of gal. So, in honor of your exuberant style, Peggy, here goes the fun part:

I have with me a copy of the imaginary autobiography of Peggy Williams that is stamped "Peggy Williams: The Humor Edition"... And I'm told it's a best seller! Every woman leader will identify with its title: Nineteen Years as a Woman College President: The Endless Search for Black Pants!

Within the book, a couple of things catch my eye:

  • Student nicknames for Peggy: "The Pegster"; and "P-Willie"
  • Peggy's secret skills: Yo-yo champion
  • Things Peggy wore on campus: biking shorts; a Speedo; wet hair; a gorilla suit
  • Things that Peggy never wore on campus: pantyhose; a St. John's suit; lipstick (that one is for you, Sarah Palin!)

While we certainly find these lists amusing, they are also very important, for they tell us that Peggy Williams has been a fabulously successful professional while wearing her own skin. She never attempted to try to be, act, or look like anyone else. She has walked every step of the way in her own way and in her own style.

By doing so, she has freed and empowered each of us to achieve, lead, and flourish in our own skins, in our own way, as authentic, rich, individual beings, confident that our very best will be more than enough to master the challenges before us. We thank you, Peggy, and we promise to use the inspiration we have gained from you for the benefit of our students, our campuses, and, of course, to encourage women to achieve their own leadership successes.

Congratulations, Peggy, and thank you.