Renowned Alcorn State University alumnae, who are known for breaking glass ceilings and achieving excellence, were honored for their accomplishments during an inaugural celebration of women leaders.
The Inaugural Woman of Courage Award Ceremony was held Wednesday, April 14, at the Vicksburg Convention Center. Keeping with President Felecia M. Nave’s Inauguration theme, “Dare to Lead,” the ceremony shed light on women who received their foundation at the University and went on to be at the forefront of their fields. The honorees were Alyce Griffin Clarke ’61, Drs. Myrlie Evers-Williams ’52, Katie Grays Dorset ’53, Adena Loston ’73, Rukeyser Thompson ’95, and Jacqueline Walters ’93.
Dr. Carla Kirkland ’86, the Chief Executive Officer of The Kirkland Group, delivered the keynote speech.
Focusing on the Inauguration’s theme, Kirkland applauded those responsible for choosing the title to represent the event's significance.
“The committee is to be commended for having coined the theme, ‘Dare to Lead,’” said Kirkland. “It captures today's history-making event. When we mention the word dare, it means someone has the courage to do something or has been challenged to do something. Inherited in these three words is a challenge to women of ages.”
When reflecting on the perseverance of women, Kirkland thought about the quote “Well behaved women rarely make history,” in reference to some of the world’s most heralded women leaders’ fearlessness in reaching their goals. She applauded women of the past and present for their sacrifices and accomplishments.
“Women who dare to be heard and pursue accomplishment were considered to be disobedient. This is not just a part of history; it’s a part of our lifetime. The trail that was blazed by ‘disobedient women’ is still being created today. History has given us extraordinary women, but we don’t have to look back to find women who are pushing aside the boundaries and obstacles that have long confined women’s opportunities and activities. Today, the American woman stands poised on the proverbial brink of the 21-century society.”
As Kirkland assured women that their time is now, she also reminded them that their journeys wouldn’t be easy. She encouraged them to continue their pursuit despite the challenges.
“Today, this generation and generations to come can go ahead and take on the dare. Our trailblazers have excelled in all disciplines of life, making the rough places smooth, the crooked places straight, and the narrow places wide. There will always be bumps in the road, but I encourage you never to mind those bumps. They are only there to remind us to keep going. Some of life’s greatest achievements are wrapped in bumps, as we encounter the dare to lead.”
After saluting several successful women from Alcorn, Kirkland declared the University as one of the best for preparing women for excellence.
“Alcorn is a hotbed for the growth and development of women leaders. When young ladies set their feet on Alcorn’s campus, their destiny for greatness is sealed. They have to dare to lead. Our alma mater has become a tradition for women who are first in their field.”
Kirkland finished her speech by encouraging women that the time for groundbreaking achievement is now.
“These are the best of times. The floodgate for leadership of women is wide open. The American woman still sees the remnants of past inequities rear its ugly head. But, up from that seething gap of social, educational, racial, emotional, and spiritual deterrence, the great American woman is still standing. She’s not just standing, she is defying the forces of gravity to say still I rise, and in rising, she gave us the impetus needed to dare to lead. The gap has been rendered powerless, and the glass ceiling is shattered.”
Although the center of attention, President Nave felt honored to share her spotlight with the accomplished alumnae. She said that her presidency has enlightened her to the many Alcornite women who are exceeding their career expectations.
“To stand here as Alcorn’s first female president with the added privilege of awarding some of the most inspiring women of our time is a tremendous honor,” said Nave. “This is an incredible week that will go down as one of the best in the University's history. In my return to Alcorn, I’ve gained a deeper understanding and appreciation of our history and the lens through which it is shared with the generations of students and the world.”
Recognizing women leaders was one of Nave’s priorities as president because she felt their accomplishments needed to be highlighted. She expressed how pleased she was to acknowledge the inaugural Women of Courage class of 2021.
“This award ceremony is a big change. This award begins our journey in paying proper homage to the women in our community who have stood firm against great odds and made significant contributions in their careers. These six trailblazers have raised the bar in their careers. The bar has been raised by the quality and reach of their work. More importantly, the bar has been raised by the example they set by using their purpose to enhance life outcomes for all people. This ceremony is for the women who actively stood before giants and worked to close a gender gap that has plagued this country for far too long.”
The honorees finished the event by showing appreciation for the awards and thanking Nave for recognizing them. They also wished her well and congratulated her on her Inauguration.
Walters said that Nave is “the true definition of breaking glass ceilings, the epitome of determination, strength, class, and integrity. I’m honored to accept the award from a woman of courage.”
Thompson, who referred to Nave as her homegirl, said that she was “honored for the recognition and the fact that the recognition comes from you. When I heard you were going to become our first female president, I knew that you would be amazing. You are going to continue to soar, and we are going to rise with you.”
Dr. Rukeyser Thompson
Dr. Jacqueline Walters
Alyce Griffin Clarke