On June 28, Library Director Diane Kresh was honored with the 2016 Women of Vision Award by the Commission on the Status of Women.
Each year, the Commission honors women from the fields of government, business and the nonprofit world who have shown extraordinary leadership and commitment to the community.
2016 marks the 30th anniversary of the awards.
This year’s Women of Vision Awards also include Rebecca Carpenter, the founder and CEO of organic urban agriculture company Sprout, and Susan Senn, a former Arlington Public Schools teacher who now serves on the Executive Board for the Arlington Branch of the American Association of University Women.
Diane’s remarks highlight her passion for mentoring women in the workplace and supporting young people in our community, as well as the power of stories to connect us:
Good evening. Thank you Ingrid, Caroline and the Commission on the Status of Women. I am honored to be here in the company of all of you, including many former winners of this prestigious award, and my County colleagues, friends and family.
Perhaps it is no coincidence that 42 years ago this month, I began working in a library. Growing up in Arlington in the early 1960’s, becoming a librarian was perhaps the furthest thing from my mind, in spite of a penchant for alphabetizing my baseball trading cards. In those pre-Title IX days, I lived for sports – especially softball – and a career in physical education seemed more likely. However, within a few years of that first library job, I earned my Masters in Library Science and joined a profession known for its advocacy on behalf of the disenfranchised and marginalized.
A few years ago, I was writing a blog post to promote our outstanding summer reading program for children and teens when I remembered an event that, as much as anything, contributed to a lifelong commitment to empowering the disempowered.
It occurred in Mrs. Cheatham’s 8th grade English class and arrived in the form of a Scholastic magazine short story. “Sucker” by celebrated novelist Carson McCullers (“The Heart is a Lonely Hunter” and “Ballad of the Sad Café”), described a cruel hurt inflicted on an orphaned teen-child, so gullible and starved for affection and acceptance that his hurt, suffered at the hands of an insensitive older cousin Pete, the story’s narrator, still takes my breath away, close to 50 years later. We have each of us probably known a Sucker; or at times, maybe, been one: the nerdy kid who tags along, always at a distance, grateful to be allowed to do that. The kind of kid who will do anything to fit in, be wanted, the kind of kid who is prone to hero worship and typically chooses the wrong hero, a hero unworthy of such devotion, and who, ultimately, inevitably will disappoint.
“Sucker” was my first brush with young adult fiction and the realization that those you most depend on are not always there for you. I read S.E. Hinton’s classic, “The Outsiders” later that same year, but didn’t pick up young adult fiction, again until shortly after I arrived at Arlington Public Library when I requested a reading list of core YA titles from our Youth Services staff. Be careful what you ask for. Although I got through only about half of the list, I was unnerved by the range of experiences these fictional heroes and heroines confronted in their still young lives: teen pregnancy, addiction, gender preference, bullying; teens facing moral dilemmas, teens facing death, teens facing the consequences of their own actions. Pretty heavy and mature stuff in stories that revealed how challenging and lonely it is for young people to come of age, now more than ever. Stories that reminded me of how important adults are in the lives of teens whether we are parents, mentors, neighbors, teachers, or librarians. How important it is to be that someone willing to listen at a time when a teen needs it most.
From the women I coach who are trying to lean in and have it all to the young people of our community who struggle to find their voices, the Library is a beacon, a safe haven, a clean, well-lighted place that says: we listen, you belong. I am grateful to Arlington County for granting me the opportunity to give back to a community that set me on my path with confidence and purpose. And I am grateful to the Advisory Commission on the Status of Women and their tireless advocacy for the social and economic interests of women.
I’ll close with a quotation from one of my heroes, Eleanor Roosevelt who knew something about public service and whose commitment to social justice and human rights and freedoms sets a bar that I aspire to reach. She also knew something about the power of women’s voices. Perhaps her words will resonate with some of you . . .
“A woman is like a tea bag – you never know how strong she is until she gets in hot water.”
Women of Vision awards are presented each year by the Arlington County Commission on the Status of Women as part of the celebration of Women’s History Month. The awards are given to individuals who demonstrate a strong commitment to women’s issues and have, over time, developed and communicated their vision for women and engaged community members and other leaders in order to realize this vision.