University President-elect Drew G. Faust may have said upon her confirmation that she was “the president of Harvard, not the woman president of Harvard.” But for one night, at least, she was.
Faust embraced her new status as a role model as she accepted the Harvard College Women’s Professional Achievement Award yesterday evening, lauding the advances of women since she left college, and advising young women to not feel trapped by expectations.
“If I had announced at age 10 or 20, or even 30, that I wanted to be president of Harvard when I grew up, I would have been regarded as delusional,” Faust said in a short speech at an awards dinner hosted by the Harvard College Women’s Center at the Charles Hotel’s Regattabar.
Since her college days, Faust said, “women have become Supreme Court justices, secretaries of state, presidential candidates...corporate CEOs, university professors, and even university presidents.”
Faust mentioned letters sent to her since her appointment from girls as far as India, China, and Latin America, and cited the importance of young women’s role models.
“I seem to have become one myself,” she mused.
But Faust, who will take office July 1, said that while the high expectations now put on young women are a mark of equality, they can also be limiting.
“Let your life surprise you. Take risks,” she advised the women in the audience. “Make sure the new world available to women is, for you, one of freedom and opportunity, not just unrelenting expectations.”
In a question-and-answer session, Faust shied away from talking business, declining to answer questions about her role in undergraduate life, and at one point asking Dean of the College Benedict H. Gross ’71 to answer a question about whether the recent focus on equal opportunity for young women had left undergraduate men neglected.
“It’s not a strategy on my part to deflect these questions to someone else,” she said, “but Dick, is there a concern about boys?”
Faust was not last night’s only honoree: Tracy E. Nowski ’07 was given the Harvard College Women’s Leadership Award. Nowski has held leadership positions in 10 different student organizations, including Strong Women Strong Girls and the Athena Theatre Company. She also managed the successful Undergraduate Council campaign of Ryan A. Petersen ’08 and Matthew L. Sundquist ’09 last semester.
Nowski said the award was “humbling—a huge honor” that it was “slightly overwhelming” to be feted alongside Faust.
Erika E. Helbling ’07, a four-year varsity runner and Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps battalion commander, was also recognized with an honorable mention.
The event marked the 10th annual giving of the Women’s Leadership Awards. The Women’s Center invited back all nine previous winners, whose ranks include a former Crimson president and a former Crimson managing editor.
Terrie F. Bloom ’75, who endowed the awards a decade ago, said she was overwhelmed by the accomplishments of each of the past awardees.
Bloom said that seeing the nine past winners and the leadership roles they’ve assumed since graduation has convinced her that the “enterprise is really worthwhile.”
—Staff writer Laurence H. M. Holland can be reached at email@example.com.
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