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kristin 1

June 2, 2017: Destinee, Kristin, Hannah and I in front of the Lincoln Memorial.

“Listen with your eyes and your heart.” – Wisdom from a second-grader

“I’m betting on millennials to change the status quo.” – Rosie Rios

“A woman who speaks with conviction should be scary.” – Crystal Valentine

“Giving of your time is investing in yourself.” – Cleopatra Campbell

“The nation needs women’s paid and unpaid labor.” – Melissa Harris-Perry

“He said ‘You got into Harvard only because you’re a girl.’ Damn straight I got into Harvard because I’m a girl. Among the vast number of upper-class, white, straight males, I stood out.” – Danielle Feinberg [Slightly paraphrased.]

“No one is powerless when we come together. You can absolutely do whatever it is that you want to do.” – Amanda Nguyen

“Let’s create a world we want to live in.” – Melissa Gruver

Every summer since 1983, there is a conference for women at University of Maryland in Washington, D.C. that spans over the course of three days. Men are welcome, of course, but it’s mainly a celebration for us ladies, a place for professionals and students to make connections, and where successful folks like Melissa Harris-Perry, Amanda Nguyen, Cleopatra Campbell and Danielle Feinberg talk to us and listen to us. It’s called the National Conference for College Women Student Leaders, or NCCWSL, pronounced as “nick whistle.” I think there’s a debate going on about whether it’s a dumb nickname. Funny enough, there’s a similar one for how to pronounce AAUW (American Association of University Women). Some people go “Aw” while my brother loves saying “Aoooohhh!” like a wolf (which I personally prefer).

Silliness aside, attending NCCWSL is nothing like I’ve never experienced. It’s a rare place where crowds will erupt into applause for other women’s achievements.

During a conversation exercise at the welcome session, for instance, when people introduced themselves and talked about what they do and what they’ve done, the audience would interrupt them briefly to clap their hands. If people in the crowd agreed with what the person was saying, they would snap their fingers and you could hear snippets such as “mhmm” and “that’s right” around you. It was truly a safe place for all of us to express ourselves; our concerns, our opinions, our aspirations, whatever was on our minds. Several women cried that morning, including myself, because there was so much love, compassion and positivity in that ballroom. I felt a connection with all the women, even though I hardly knew them. Yet I knew the emotions behind their words: Passion, frustration, loneliness, the special rage that only unfairness and dismissal can cause, that burning WANT to do more and to be more.

If you think I’m exaggerating, get this: The next day, I was at a workshop on self-care when a woman talked about being a single mother and not receiving any support from her family. She teared up and said that this was the first time other people have showed that they care.

One of the questions that we tackled in that exercise was: “Has college built your confidence?” As the mic was passed around, there was a mix of responses. Yes, because she knew that she had earned her place at her school. No, not really… it’s been a uphill journey because she had to prove herself to naysayers. I’m glad that someone in the crowd mentioned “imposter syndrome,” which is when a person doesn’t acknowledge their achievements as theirs and sometimes even gives the credit to other people. Too often women don’t let themselves feel proud. Women in America are generally taught to be humble, to be a background character in their own life when they really are the superhero.

One great moment at the conference for me was listening to Amanda Nguyen speak and later meeting her, even though it was less than a minute (a handshake, a “thank you, Amanda” and a hug). She is the mind and soul behind the Bill of Rights for Sexual Assault Survivors (2016). I decided to record her speech on my phone, which you can watch here. What a wonderful person!!

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Another thing that made this trip to DC such an awesome experience was, of course, the friends I made. From the moment our bus left Dearborn, Michigan on Wednesday morning to when we returned Saturday night, I was surrounded by many fun, interesting, smart chicks. The conversations we had, the meals we shared, I will never forget that, and I’m so glad that we’ve stayed in touch since.

This is something I posted publicly on Facebook on the day we were boarding the bus home (June 3, 2017):

I’m going to talk more about #NCCWSL17 later, but I want to say something for now: One big thing I’ve learned from this amazing conference is that I can truly pursue and achieve the goals I’ve set for myself and it does NOT have to be overwhelming. Hell, it can be fun! I just gotta remember to take better care of myself; that way I’ll have the energy and motivation to keep going. Even Wonder Woman needs a break once in a while. I already started this week by taking 30-45 minutes a day practicing karate outside. I finally don’t care about people watching! And I feel so great!

In a future entry, I will talk about the handy information I learned at the workshops and lectures.

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Below is a series of photos I posted on Instagram during the trip! Not all, but most of them.

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Day 1 at NCCWSL (June 1, 2017).

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The courtyard outside the Ellicott cafeteria.

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The welcome session.

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Me, Kristin, Destinee and Hannah.

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Skyy, me, Hannah and Kristin at the Women of Distinction Award Ceremony.

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Cleopatra Campbell, retired defense attorney and long-time AAUW member.

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Danielle Feinberg, who has worked on Pixar movies such as “Finding Nemo” & “Brave,” spoke to us about doing what we’re interested in and passionate about. Don’t do what everyone else is doing just because you’re scared. Even when you’re the only woman in the room, like Feinberg was, don’t let it stop you.

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Rosie Rios, former US Treasurer. In this photo, she is smiling at her mother sitting in the front row.

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Amanda Nguyen, civil rights activist and aspiring astronaut.

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Crystal Valentine, slam poet.

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Melissa Harris-Perry had various informative slides during her speech (June 2, 2017).

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I explored the old campus with Elle and Courtney (they’re also from Oakland University).

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Night out in DC!

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Found the president!

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And then we found a bar called Recessions (it used to be a speakeasy).

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Melissa Gruver closed the conference with a uplifting message: Let’s create a world we want to live in. Be leaders TODAY. Look at yourself, accept yourself. Breathe. (June 3, 2017).

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