I was sitting in my hotel room putting on my earrings as I begin to get a tad nervous. It finally sunk into me that NCORE (National Conference on Race & Ethnicity in American Higher Education) was going to be my first ever national conference experience. Yes, I had been to conferences in the past and even presented at the regional level, but I was officially in the big leagues now. Did I know how to engage? How would I connect with my peers? Would I still have the confidence to approach a presenter or ask questions during a session? In the words of my colleague, Rex Jackson, I was a “vortex of emotions”. I was filled with excitement, anxiety, and anticipation. It had been a long time coming, many nights crying about the proposal that got me here and I was not going to allow my fear to get in the way of my learning.
My first session choice was pretty predictable if you know my areas of passion. I attended a panel focused on women’s leadership and women’s access to change. I can imagine that I looked like a small inquisitive child if someone had taken a photo of me during this session. I sat with my eyes wide and ears open, soaking in all the knowledge that was being said by the women on the panel. I probably broke twitter with all the tidbits and nuggets of wisdom I was tweeting from this session, but I knew that all of my #wlsalt and #wihsng peers would appreciate the information and who was I to deny them!
As I left the session and begin to reflect on all that I had heard one comment continued to replay in my mind. As they women were discussing the obstacles that they had to face on the path to leadership, one woman reminded us that we are all going to be discouraged as we fight for change, growth and access. She encouraged us that no matter how hard the road gets we must not give up, but instead remember that our voices are needed around the table.
Although it sounds so simple, this nugget of wisdom will stick with me probably forever. Sometimes it is hard to be the only voice around the table advocating for a certain group of people, a certain initiative, a change…but instead of giving up we must keep our focus on the need.
Whenever you become discouraged remember my first lesson learned from NCORE and say to yourself “if not me, then who?” There is a reason that you are around the table; your voice is important. If you stay focused on the “need” during the adverse times, you will persevere.