Friday, September 9, 2011

Women, Education, Ensuring the Future

The 35th annual dinner of the Jeannette Rankin Women’s Scholarship Fund was a delightful affair last night. To begin with, I had the best seat in the house, between keynote speaker Elizabeth Kiss, President of Agnes Scott College, and Barbara Dixon, JRF’s first scholarship awardee.

Barbara, a widow with two daughters, decided to go back to school and become a nurse after caring for her husband in the hospital and at home, prior to his death. The Jeannette Rankin Women’s Scholarship Fund (then still known as the Jeannette Rankin Foundation) made it possible. Now retired, Barbara had a long, rewarding career as a nurse, was able to send her children to college (they are now nurses themselves!) and is actively supporting her family’s third generation of college students.

Elizabeth focused, needless to say, on the importance of education for women – education not only makes their lives better, but also the lives of their family members (see Barbara Dixon’s story!) and their communities. Her “homework” for the audience: call your representative in Congress and tell him/her not to let the Pell grant for low-income students disappear.

Dear to my heart, she also mentioned equality for women, which seems still so far, far away. And, of course, she mentioned the intrepid Jeannette Rankin in her speech, without whose $16,000 estate gift in 1976 thousands of women across the United States would not have had their chance at an education and a meaningful career.

One of these scholars sat at our table also, last night, and gave the dinner’s customary scholar’s speech. Patricia Garcia is now a hydrogeologist, has worked in Mexico, Nepal and West Africa, and teaches earth science at Utah Valley University. The chain continues . . ., from Barbara Dixon to Patricia Garcia, to many beyond the room we were in last night and the years across which the organization has done its commendable work, to the future. On to the next 35 years!

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