President Osgood, members of the Grinnell faculty, administration and staff, class of 2010 and guests, good morning. I’m deeply honored to be receiving this degree today. It’s probably the result of my community activism, and that came about by accident.
Back in 1943 career counseling was done by house mothers. Mine could see girls only as teachers, nurses, secretaries or homemakers, and dutifully steered me in that direction. Well, if you don’t know where you ‘re going it doesn’t matter what path you take, so for two years I was a very indifferent student, and finally settled on Plan B, a Phys Ed major, which at least had some science components. It’s been a somewhat erratic but interesting journey. A far cry from teaching or nursing, and I love it.
In Iowa, I fought for regulations on livestock wastes because it threatened odor problems at our beautiful Girl Scout camp. I learned to lobby and was inspired by legislators. Thus in 1976 I ran for the Iowa Senate. I could not even be found in the telephone book. Women were simply invisible. The CEO just laughed when I insisted that it change, and that was his mistake. I researched the directory and showed that the addition of women’s names in the directory would actually help to identify the Bob Johnsons, Smiths and Jones, and I proved that the telephone companies were actually losing money, losing revenue by their stubborn refusal. My testimony at a hearing did the trick. Almost overnight they began listing married women’s names, first in the Iowa directories and then nationwide through the Bell system.
By now I was really hooked on activism. In 1988, based on an Iowa law creating a gender balance on all state boards, councils, commissions and committees, I founded the National Gender Balance Project. And then like Johnny Appleseed, I spread the idea to all 50 states, many of which have now passed either mandatory laws or policy statements. And just a year ago, Iowa passed a mandatory legislation to bring that to the local level. So that’s progress.
Success does not always come easily. I had fought for fair treatment by financial advisors for thirty-four years to combat sexism in wills and trusts which were meant to protect women and wives and daughters, but which had an extremely negative effect in practice. It was finally passed in Congress and signed by President Clinton as part of the Financial Services Act of 1999.
It was my speech professor here, Dr. Ryan, in 1943 who has most affected my life as a community activist. Lesson 1, page 1, sentence 1 of the book he wrote reads, “There are four parts to a speech: the introduction, the heart, the body and the conclusion.” I’m grateful to him each time I prepare an outline for a presentation, paper, testimony, essay, report, action plan, workshop or letter to the editor. This is the most valuable organizational tool I have ever found.
I was asked back in 1994 what I learned at Grinnell that has been most beneficial to me, personally, and professionally. I wrote, “Moral values, social responsibility, community service, respect for cultural diversity, appreciation and enjoyment of the arts,” and I wouldn’t change one thing if I were asked that today in 2010.
Grinnell isn’t about getting rich; it is about enrichment. My liberal arts degree has enabled me to lead an exciting life and to make a positive difference in local, national and even international scheme of things.
So, my gift to you graduates today is my master list of quotes. Heed it well, and with it you, too, can become a community activist.
Be prepared. Always have a Plan B.
Develop a healthy self esteem. It’s the motor that propels your boat.
Don’t be afraid to fail. When in doubt make a fool of yourself. There’s a microscopically thin line between being brilliantly creative and acting like the most gigantic idiot on earth, so what the hell? Leap! – You like that one.
Only he or she who attempts the absurd can achieve the impossible. That’s another good one.
You only need to be ten percent better than average to be better than 90 percent of the people.
And there are four parts to a speech: the introduction, the heart, the body and the conclusion.
And, mind your mom. Always wear clean underwear. You never know when you are going to be in an accident.
But there is one more part to the equation and it is the magic ingredient. Call it what you will – creativity, ingenuity or entrepreneurship – this is what you will find in your own life that will cause you to find a need and fill it as only you can do. It may keep you awake at night, but trust me, it’s worth it.
In a few short minutes, you will be throwing your caps in the air. May I be one of the very first to congratulate you and welcome you into the ranks of the Grinnell alumni. Have a happy, productive journey. Thank you.