“She just was herself,” said 2022 Alumnae Achievement Award recipient Laura Wheeler Murphy ’76 of one of her early mentors, Rep. Shirley Chisholm, the first African American woman elected to Congress.
Murphy joins a legacy of Achievement Award recipients who highlight authenticity as a key to their success. And many who credit Wellesley with being the place they discovered their most authentic selves. In her interview for her award profile, Lulu Chow Wang ’66 notes that much of the inner strength that drove her came from Wellesley.
This year, we returned to the on-campus celebration of Wellesley’s highest accolade, fittingly in the Diana Chapman Walsh ’66 Alumnae Hall: The president emerita herself is a 2008 recipient.
Murphy, a public servant and civil liberties and civil rights advocate, and Wang, an investment trailblazer and philanthropic leader, were joined by Mara Prentiss ’80, a physicist and environmental revolutionary, in being honored this year. Full profiles can be found online at magazine.wellesley.edu.
I’m always delighted when alumnae ask me how the awardees are chosen, because each time it helps extend the participation in and ownership of the process for alums.
Each year, a selection committee is appointed by the WCAA Board of Directors, designed to bring a variety of perspectives to the discussion and deliberation. The selection committee evaluates nominees based on three key criteria:
- alumnae of outstanding achievement and distinction as trailblazers, reaching national or international stature in their fields of endeavor;
- alumnae who will effectively inspire students;
- alumnae who reflect the diversity of Wellesley graduates and their accomplishments.
All alumnae are invited to make nominations for consideration. This year, to help increase the diversity of candidates, we expanded the process with a nomination committee. The nomination committee was charged with proactively reaching out to Shared Identity Groups and other networks to surface names for consideration. The nominating committee conducted preliminary research and identified candidates to move forward to the selection committee for consideration. This expanded approach will continue for a second pilot year.
Several years ago, before the pandemic disrupted the Alumnae Achievement Award celebrations, the student experience, and so much more, our team was recruiting student ambassadors to foster the alum/student connection. One student (now an alumna) shared the following:
“One of the most valuable experiences during my first year (and honestly, my time at Wellesley) was when 2018 award recipient Dr. Camara Jones ’76 came to Harambee House to speak to students of African descent. … Just knowing that a woman who looked like me was able to not only survive, but dominate in her field inspires me to chase my dreams and play an active role in the Wellesley community every day.”
In their remarks on campus, award recipients often talk about the circuitous nature of their careers after Wellesley, paths filled with a few dead ends and unexpected pit stops. And they consistently mention the support that they received from the Wellesley community, in all stages of their lives.
We’re not all going to receive an Achievement Award. But across our community, we can be heroes to one another, celebrate one another, and lead with authenticity. I will continue to learn from each alum when I ask, “Where is Wellesley in your story? How has your Wellesley experience impacted your life and the lives of others?” And I expect to learn from each and every answer you share.