Vista • Mount Holyoke College • Spring/Summer • Vol. 17 No. 1
A Shared Sense of Purpose: Jenna Lempesis ’12
When Jenna Lempesis ’12 opened an email from U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton inviting her to the launch of the Women in Public Service Project it seemed—for a moment—unbelievable. “Then I thought, ‘This is about women’s leadership. Of course, the State Department would partner with Mount Holyoke and the Sister Colleges,” said Lempesis, a politics major and anthropology minor from Lexington, Massachusetts.
Equally exciting was the fact that students were being included in an event of such significance. “Along with it being an incredible honor, I really believed that Mount Holyoke students had much to offer,” she said. “We care about social justice and have a very optimistic brand of feminism: we believe that women can make a difference in the world and intend to do so.”
Still, the actual experience of being in the presence of Secretary Clinton, IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde, former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, and so many other trailblazers utterly surpassed all her expectations. From the students-only breakfast at the State Department—where Clinton greeted them—through the daylong program of speakers and panels, Lempesis found herself “captivated” by the discussions and the shared sense of purpose.
“I found certain things especially inspiring,” she said. “For example, when Florence Chenoweth, minister of agriculture for the Republic of Liberia, recounted how she was denied access to agriculture school because of her gender. Chenoweth ultimately sued under the provisions of her nation’s constitution. Now, she oversees Liberia’s agriculture sector.”
Along with admiring the determination of the women who spoke, Lempesis was especially impressed that they made no apologies for their confidence. “Women usually are socialized to say ‘I am sorry, this might be wrong, but . . . ’ or ‘Excuse me for saying this, because it’s a little controversial, but . . . ’ There was none of that at the colloquium,” she said. “It was a powerful example, and something we carried back to campus.”
Lempesis also brought back some material for the final paper she was writing for an anthropology of law course. “My topic was the differing standards for women’s participation in the public and private spheres,” she explained. “During one panel, Gloria Steinem said, ‘Democracy in the public sphere must first be reflected in the private sphere or it’s not democracy at all.’ She also remarked that we should have a ‘men in the private sphere initiative,’ which I loved. Both quotes went into my paper.”
Power Lunch: Cynthia Staniszewski FP’13
When Cynthia Staniszewski FP’13 sat down for lunch at the Women in Public Service Project colloquium, an already phenomenal experience became the moment of a lifetime. Seated next to her was Marie Wilson, founder of the White House Project, a national not-for-profit organization dedicated to advancing women’s leadership in all communities and sectors.
Staniszewski began the conversation using her elevator speech, the 30-second statement that summarized her interests, accomplishments, and aspirations. All the Mount Holyoke student leaders had arrived in D.C. with a prepared—and practiced— elevator speech. In fact, Staniszewski, who’d recently attended a Public Leadership Education Network (PLEN) seminar in Washington, had briefed them on what she’d learned there about elevator speeches from women in both the public and private sectors. “It was the ideal moment to put the elevator speech into practice. I knew how to get our conversation started. I was able to succinctly share my story, my goals, what I am involved in at Mount Holyoke,” she said.
Wilson in turn, told her about the history of Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day, a leadership initiative Wilson developed when she worked at the Ms. Foundation. “It was an amazing conversation. We connected over a shared commitment to helping women lead,” said Staniszewski. “Before lunch ended, we exchanged contact information, and I am confident that our relationship will continue.”