During an exhilarating day filled with powerhouse speakers — from the Leader of the Free World to the planet’s most influential media mogul — the best advice truly may have come from 11-year-old entrepreneur Mikaela Ulmer:
“Dream like a kid.”
For a few days in Washington D.C. this week, I did feel like a kid, dreaming. I had the giddy honor to attend the first ever United State of Women Summit, presented by the White House and sponsored in part by the Tory Burch Foundation. Since I was a finalist in the Tory Burch Foundation’s Fellowship Competition, the invite was extended since I was now “part of the family.” It took a nanosecond to say yes, pack my bags and hightail it to the nation’s capitol.
The U.S. Congresswomen, a very colorful and diverse bunch
So what was the Summit, exactly? The White House had just announced plans to dedicate $50 million in commitments, along with new tools, policies and partnerships to support women & girls. Using that as a springboard, the USOW was a shared convening of advocates, activists and thought leaders, a celebration of all that’s been accomplished so far, and a call to action to tackle what lies ahead. In simple terms, it was a Women’s Empowerment Issues Pep Rally, says the former cheerleader! And … you wouldn’t believe who was in the lineup to speak.
Gloria Steinem. Loretta Lynch. Nancy Pelosi. Veep Joe Biden. Warren Buffet. Billie Jean King. Actresses Kerry Washington, Amy Poehler, Sophia Bush, Connie Britton and Mariska Hargitay, my fave! Shonda Rhimes. CEOs and leaders of advocacy groups. You may know someone named Barack Obama, too. And in a duo to end all duos, First Lady Michelle Obama sat down with Oprah for some powerful armchair girltalk.
(Also, the ebullient Chinese-American Tina Tchen was co-emcee of the event; I loved seeing her up there, as the First Lady’s Chief of Staff and Executive Director of the President’s Council on Women and Girls!)
There’s something about being in the room, being part of these important conversations, that slapped me out of my comfort zone. We talked of economic empowerment, women’s health issues, and violence against women. Entrepreneurship and innovation. Education. Civic engagement. Being a leader. These are issues so much bigger than just ourselves. If you know me, you know I operate like a realist. I’m even-keeled and practical. Cynical, even. So when I tell you that many speeches left me in tears, you know how valuable and ambitious this day was.
Six thoughts resonated with me with at the USOW Summit, and I wanted to share them with you.
1. If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.
There were 5,000 of us women and men together for this Summit. The “mob mentality” was used for such good actionable points — like highlighting ItsOnUs.org‘s user-friendly campaign organizing toolkit to stop sexual assault on college campuses. On a personal level, I was able to meet the other Tory Burch Foundation Fellows and Finalists, and we’ve already made plans to collaborate. There’s nothing I want more than to see my fellow woman succeed. And as President Obama says, “When women succeed, America succeeds.”
2. Embrace the hard conversations.
While his speech on violence against women ran a little long, VP Joe Biden showed me that if a white male politician can say aloud with fervor that “women who have suffered domestic abuse are raped again and again and again by the system,” we all should be better about talking about the hard stuff. And yes, it’s hard. It makes everyone squirm and avert their eyes and change the subject. But if we don’t ever say the hard stuff out loud, how will anyone know what needs to be done? How will you help victims find their voice? Men need to talk about it. Young people need to talk to each other about it. Joe Biden drafted the original Violence Against Women Act, and has such passion for this issue. Speaking of…
3. You have to have passion.
The love of your work fuels you every day, even when some days aren’t the prettiest or easiest. Lisa Price, founder of Carol’s Daughter, had been working on her skin and hair care line for 20 years before L’Oreal bought her company. “You have to have passion. You are the DNA of your brand.” Eighty-five-year-old Warren Buffett also said proudly, “I tap dance to work every day. I get to do what I love, with the people I love.”
4. Dream like a kid.
The speaker who received the most standing ovations and yells of encouragement over the course of the Summit was Me & The Bees CEO, Mikaela Ulmer. She’s eleven and on her way to building a lemonade empire. Completely poised, she introduced President Obama, and sat on a few panels in the Entrepreneurship breakout sessions. Not only did she extoll the virtues of dreaming without limits, she talked about life/work balance. “My family is very supportive, and helps me do things I really enjoy, like hang out with my friends.” Hear, hear!
Michelle Obama & Oprah Winfrey talk bullet-proof glass, knowing your value, and Barack’s swagger.
Watch their conversation here >>
5. People won’t remember what others say about you. They’ll remember what you do.
Ah, the wisdom of the First Lady. Michelle Obama talked about how she deals with the haters: “I know who I am. I know my value. As women, we have to invest that time to understand who we are — and like who were are. You have to work to get to that place.” Surround yourself with goodness, and when someone tells you that you can’t do something? Prove them wrong with your actions.
6. In the end, motherhood trumps all.
Oprah asked Michelle Obama, “You are going to leave the White House most proud of…?”
FLOTUS could have talked about her national initiatives that support poverty awareness, military families, girls’ education, nutrition and physical activity. She could have bragged about the strides her husband’s administration has made. But without hesitation, she replied, “Truly, I am most proud of my daughters.”
She described that first day sending them off to school eight years ago with their Secret Service escorts. “They were so little, and the bulletproof glass was so thick. I thought, oh my God, I just want them to know they are loved by us. I want to raise them feeling confident, feeling a sense of normalcy and sense of obligation to do something outside of themselves, to be good people. I am very proud of those two and how they’ve managed this situation, and how they’ve continued to be themselves. Every day I cross my fingers and hope I’m doing right by them and providing them with a good foundation so that they can be great people.”
Watch their full conversation here – it’s delightful and inspirational 🙂