Students often ask University President Donna E. Shalala how she wound up on President Bill Clinton’s cabinet as the longest-serving secretary of health and human services in history. Her answer: “Look around the room and figure out which one of your friends is going to be president, and keep in touch!”
As keynote speaker of the University of Miami Women’s Commission’s 44th Annual Breakfast, Shalala emphasized the importance of networking—on an individual basis and through organizations like the Women’s Commission—to “connect your interests with others to make the biggest impact.” The remarkable impact of her 14 years as president earned her the commission’s 2015 May A. Brunson Award, which recognizes her unwavering efforts to improve the status of women at the University.
As reported in the commission’s annual Sun Spots and Cold Waves report, women presently hold 49 academic or administrative dean-level positions and 129 senior administrative positions, compared with 26 dean-level women and 21 female senior administrators in 2006. These and other positive changes are not the result of giant leaps but “hundreds of deliberate steps,” Shalala said, also noting that leadership is not about being a “queen bee” and staying above the fray; it’s about service and mentorship, making a living while also making a good life.
“You’re not counted unless you reach out and help someone, especially another sister,” Shalala told more than 250 attendees at the Student Activities Center.
Shalala, who will be leaving the University at the end of May, thanked the Women’s Commission for its tribute to her late mother, Edna, who was born in a time when women didn’t have the freedom to vote. She also acknowledged the value in forming coalitions with men in the ongoing push toward equality.
“I tell all the men I work with that I assume they’re all feminists committed to equal opportunity,” she said. “And if they’re not, they’d better tell me.”
Following presentation of the May A. Brunson Award, the Women’s Commission recognized senior-year student Noelle Mendez with the Louise P. Mills Award for her commitment to equality as a leader in events such as Walk a Mile in Her Shoes and the Clothesline Project, her advocacy of improving self-image among the student body, and her work as a research assistant for the YES Institute.