The Converse community enjoyed a rousing celebration of Dexter Edgar Converse’s vision to enable women “to see clearly, decide wisely, and act justly” during Founder’s Day 2012. The program underscored Converse’s legacy of leadership and was dedicated to the life of Dean Joe Ann Lever, who died in November of 2011. Two distinguished alumnae, Phyllis Perrin Harris ’82 and Hannah Stewart-Gambino ’79, returned home to share their experiences and perspectives as keynote speakers for the event.
“Today more than in 1889, conventional wisdom and group think and normative gender roles are all what Dexter Converse would want to educate Converse women to combat.”
Donning robes and Golden Club medallions, the Class of 1962 was applauded as they processed into Twichell Auditorium for their official induction into the Golden Club during the service. The auditorium roared with approval as President Betsy Fleming presented the Spirit of Converse award to Mildred Roche, director of accompanying for the Petrie School of Music; and announced Hilary Parkin ’12, an accomplished student leader and member of the Valkyries soccer team, as recipient of the 2012 Weisiger Cup. Following the service, the campus community joined together for lunch on the front lawn where Mr. Converse’s favorite dessert, strawberries and cream, is always served.
In her opening remarks, President Fleming reflected, “Joe Ann Lever was a mighty force in our midst. On a daily basis, she seized the opportunity to be a part of Converse’s success story, to nurture the voice and the talents of her students, and thus help to secure the well-being of our country. She spoke up. She stepped up. She got to work…Her wisdom and good judgment are evidenced by the great numbers of alumnae who stepped out of their comfort zone because of her urging and who consider her influence to be instrumental in their personal and professional lives, even today.”
Hannah Stewart-Gambino, who is dean of the college and professor of government and law at Lafayette College in Easton, Pa., added, “One day in my sophomore or early junior year, probably around 5:30 in the afternoon, Dean Lever passed me in Carmichael Hall and said – honestly, simply in passing – ‘Hey Hannah, what are you thinking about doing after you graduate? You know, you are really good at this school thing. You should think about graduate school. And, you know, you shouldn’t have to pay for it…’ That moment is one of the central touchstones in my life as a faculty member, advisor and academic administrator. I am absolutely a poster child for how liberal arts colleges, and women’s colleges in particular, changes lives – one student at a time.”
Stewart-Gambino also asserted her belief that the Founder’s Ideal has grown increasingly compelling since 1889, noting, “To decide wisely and particularly to act justly must – must – require us to stretch to understand beyond our comfort zones. Today more than ever the edges of our comfort zones are reinforced by such things as the niche news cycle in which some watch Fox News, others watch MSNBC, and others just tune out or personalize their Google filter bubble, ensuring that we never have to deal with people with whom we disagree or views that are different from our own. Today more than in 1889, conventional wisdom and group think and normative gender roles are all what Dexter Converse would want to educate Converse women to combat.”
Imploring students to seize every opportunity to grow as leaders, Phyllis Perrin Harris, who is senior vice president and chief compliance officer for Walmart Stores, Inc., said, “The foundation of my success was my four years at Converse. It was here that I was supported and empowered each and every day by this amazing faculty. I know without a doubt that my leadership skills, ability, and integrity were molded by the Converse community—a community that was exclusively focused on developing women who think, women who have honor and women who were not afraid to take on the world.”
She continued, “I learned early on in my career that in order to engage, you have to lean in and be an active participant. When you contribute, you create an opportunity to be heard and truly own your own career. It is so very true that the greater the risk, the greater the reward. Opportunities to engage present themselves every day. It’s up to you to own the opportunity.”