This past weekend I was so lucky to get to attend the Women in the World Summit. It is honestly an opportunity that I wouldn’t have had had it not been for Harvard, specifically for the Institute of Politics Women’s Initiative in Leadership (WIL). WIL is an AWESOME extracurricular (if I can be so bold to even reduce it to that!) that I have been involved with since freshmen fall. Now, as a sophomore, I have the privilege of chairing this awesome Institute of Politics program and passing on to the women that have since joined the awesome opportunities, advice, and lessons I’ve picked up along the way.
The Back Story:
WIL was created in 2006 under the directive of the former Director of the Harvard Institute of Politics and current Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH). The program is meant to expose aspiring female undergraduates to incredible women leaders across Harvard and beyond and too, to give them the necessary skills workshops they need to grow their own leadership. So what does that mean? Well, we host everything from a skills workshop on networking and public speaking to engagements with Current Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) and the head of HKS’ Women and Public Policy Program Victoria Budson. And I’m just getting started.
This past weekend, the IOP funded 8 of our women to go on an all expenses-paid trip to NYC where we attended the Women in the world Summit. The summit is jam packed with speakers and panels and special showcases of incredible women– from Hillary Clinton to Meryl Streep to Angelina Jolie to Ambassador Susan Rice. The chance to get to sit in the room with these women– and literally just a few feet away from them– was simply amazing. I mean when will I ever be 10 feet away from former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton? What’s more, the summit gave all of us the chance to engage, learn about, and talk with people who are really passionate about women’s issues– from stopping human trafficking in Argentina to helping refugees in Syria to saving the orphans of Sierra Leone. A summit like this goes by fast but never fails to inspire. I was blown away by the progress women HAVE made and although saddened by the reality that things simply aren’t always fair, I was emboldened by the fact that there were SO many incredibly women (and men) in that theatre with us calling for change and willing to take actionable steps to make it happen.
Just some of the highlights for me:
We randomly ran into Angelina Jolie on the first night of the event. No big deal. I was blown away by her genuineness– and how even as millions of people clamored to take a photo of and with her, she maintained her cool, acted as if it was completely normal, and went on talking about the Congo.
Tom Hanks gave an incredibly moving tribute to Nora Ephron, the legendary screenwriter and journalist. His tribute came complete with some of my favorite scenes from Sleepless in Seattle. Nora’s work certainly does speak to the cultural, political, and social realities of our times.
Oprah interviewed her personal hero Tererai Trent, a Zimbabwe woman who was married off to an abusive husband when she was just 11 years old but who nonetheless insisted that she would get an education, that doing so would be the only way for her to break the cycle of poverty in her family. Tererai talked about her struggles to get an undergraduate degree and then a master’s degree and then a doctorate degree in the United States. She relayed the story of her days living in a trailer park with her kids and abusive husband. She talked about how her kids would beg for fruits and vegetables and how she made a deal with the grocery store in Oklahoma that she would pick up their old vegetables every Friday at 5:30. She told us of how many times she was late and those vegetables ended up in the trash– and she dug into the trash and retrieved those vegetables and washed them as hard as she could for her children. She was, simply put, inspiring.
And then there was Hillary Clinton. I don’t think the applause and standing ovation we gave her in the Lincoln Center could ever be enough. She has revolutionized foreign policy and made central something that has not always been thought to be so important: the empowerment of women the world over. What she has done for foreign policy through her efforts to really invest in women and girls far away from America’s borders simply cannot be measured. But I know that these investments, this commitment to these women will pay off so much more in the future.
There are just some of the events that took my breath away. They are numbered amongst the image of a young dancer from Harlem– a former orphan in Sierra Leone– doing her dance and in so doing, telling people her story. They are lined with the words of young female inventors, passionate about not just talking about but too making change. They are captured with the soundtrack of the Me N Ma Girls of Burma, young women who with their lyrics have managed to express and inspire even from behind the gates of censure and repression in their homeland, a country that itself is undergoing massive renewal and transformation. To say that this event left me inspired and energized would be an understatement. This event left me ready– ready to come back to Harvard and use my experiences to really do something with WIL to make an impact. And I must say, it’s these kinds of inspiring, empowering, get-off-your-butt and do something experiences that have made my Harvard experience. And that have made me a better student, a better person, and better citizen all the same. I wouldn’t trade these experiences for the world.
Comments are now closed.