Encouraging students to start their journey of leadership, Dr. Sarah Weddington addressed more than 300 students, faculty and staff members at The University of Texas-Pan American April 18 as the final speaker in the 2005-2006 Distinguished Speakers Series.
"My intent is to encourage the student body here to not only be preparing for a profession, but also to be preparing for a position in leadership," she said. "You have a very dynamic area here in the Valley which is rapidly growing and changing. When you have that situation, you are going to need a lot of local people to be involved in leadership."
Weddington started her law career when she was accepted to The University of Texas School of Law in 1965 - one of only five women in her class. She is most well known for being the attorney who successfully argued before the U.S. Supreme Court for the Roe v. Wade case in 1973.
"Up to that point I had only handled uncontested divorces," she said. "They chose me to try the case because they wanted a woman lawyer and they needed someone who would do it for free, so that's how I got the case."
Weddington described her experiences as a White House assistant to former President Jimmy Carter, the first woman from Austin (Travis County) to be elected to the Texas Legislature and the first woman general counsel for the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
One issue of Time magazine included Jan. 22, 1973 (the day the Roe v. Wade decision was handed down) as one of the "80 Days that Changed the World."
"Of the 80 days featured, only 10 were centered around women who were willing to take a small step that lead to other steps that changed the world," she said. "I'm hoping that when they choose 100 days or 120 days that changed the world, that there will be more of a balance of men and women."
Weddington showed the audience a chart of all the people who have served on the U.S. Supreme Court and pointed out that there have been only two women and two minority males appointed to the nation's highest court. She described how the opportunities for women are much more expanded now than when she went to college, and explained the opportunities will be even more expanded for women in the future.
"It's going to be the women who are here who must make that happen," she said. "I worked on women's issues because those were the ones that most affected me and my generation and we wanted to try to change it."
Weddington described leadership as the "willingness and ability to leave your thumbprint" and offered five key suggestions for developing leadership. First, practice leadership, she said.
"I really have learned so much by practicing leadership," she said. "I would like to get students here to think of college as a way to practice leadership. You don't have to be perfect."
She also suggested students use a critical eye when looking at the world around them, and be "divinely discontent."
"Find your own style of leadership by watching others. Struggling against things that seem unfair is like strength training. When you work against resistance, you get stronger. Sometimes life experiences can expose you to things that need to be changed," she said.
"Never give in to an extent you are not comfortable with, but sometimes flexibility is needed," she said. "I think you will find that some of your very best friends - those who will support you in many parts of your life - will come from these college years. I think it's important for you to be thinking about people who you want to be part of your life over a long period of time."
Some UTPA students had the opportunity to meet Weddington. Rory Glover, a sophomore originally from Syracuse, N.Y. said Weddington is proof that powerful women leaders exist in America today.
"She is a modern day hero and I was so honored to have met her. Dr. Weddington proves that passion, drive, intelligence and ambition can make you achieve your dreams and even surpass them," Glover said. "Listening to her makes me want to be a better student and a better person. Not because that is what I should do, but because Sarah Weddington is proof that I can."
Weddington has received numerous honors and awards including one of Time magazine's "Outstanding Young American Leaders" and was also selected as one of the 10 "Outstanding Women in America." In addition, she has been featured in such publications as Working Women, People magazine, and the Washington Post, and has appeared as a guest on such programs as The Today Show, Good Morning America, and CBS Morning News. She is currently an adjunct professor at The University of Texas at Austin.
"I call leadership the wind beneath your wings. Wherever you go, whatever you do, the field of leadership will help propel you through and give you more options," Weddington said.
The Distinguished Speakers Series is underwritten by student fees as recommended by the Student Affairs Advisory Committee and offers the University community and public the opportunity to hear from and engage with speakers of the highest caliber representing a variety of worldviews and backgrounds.
For more information, contact Samuel A. Smith, assistant dean of students and Distinguished Speakers Committee chair, at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 956/316-7989.