This past week, I spent a day volunteering at a leadership conference with Women for Economic and Leadership Development (WELD) at Otterbein University. While I was truly impressed and inspired by the entire day, I got what I really needed from the very first opening session.
Dr. Kathy Krendl is Otterbein University’s 20th (yet first woman) president. She developed a partnership between WELD and Otterbein almost ten years ago and she spoke about Otterbein’s advancement for women in her opening remarks. In an effort to honor the first two graduates of Otterbein, Dr. Krendl started and taught a Women’s Leadership Seminar for a select group of first-year students. When these students finish their journey in the seminar, they become Miller-Winter Scholars. The story that she told about their beginning is what really got me.
The first meeting for this group is shortly after they arrive to college. They step on to campus, get all moved-in and anxiously await the beginning of their classes, like so many of us have. The first meeting of this seminar happens inside the Otterbein University board room. This is the room where the University’s top administrators and decision-makers meet throughout the year. It is expansive, as rooms go. Large, heavy doors, a table that spans the length of the space, portraits, and plush chairs. Dr. Krendl illustrated that the women are instructed to meet her there and she waits for them behind closed doors. Each one of them hesitantly tugs on the door handle, pulls it open, and peers quietly behind it. As Dr. Krendl assures them they are in the right place, they step inside and sheepishly say hello to her as she stands at the head of the table. They choose one of the large seats to call their own that day and as they sit, their feelings are palpable. She notices that they feel small in their seats and that they each wonder if this seminar is really meant for someone like them. Dr. Krendl pointed out that they were always noticeably uncomfortable, anxious, and doubtful on that day. That moment of hesitancy, she explained, is the most important of their entire college career.
From that meeting on, the seminar seeks to teach these young women that they are, in fact, worthy of sitting in seats that feel too large and at tables that seemingly expand their reach. The program takes these hesitant students and urges them to sit tall in that seat, to believe that they’re worthy of sitting at any table, and prepares them with voices that will be heard in any space.
I couldn’t help but feel a little teary as I listened to her…how often have we been those students? Even today, after being loved by mentors and encouraged by so many, there are still lots of seats that feel too large and tables that cause me to call myself inadequate. I imagine that her story rested on the hearts of each woman in the audience, just as it did mine. Their story is ours.
This week, her story felt like a call to action for me…a call to trust myself, my experiences, and those around me that tell me I can do anything, because my voice is truly the only one telling me I can’t.