Last evening I attended the Global Women’s Leadership Network graduation for a group of amazing women who will now head off to spend the next six months working on projects to improve lives and make the world a better place. A young man approached me during the reception afterwards and introduced himself. He is an engineering student at Santa Clara University and was attending the ceremony as an assignment for a class focused on women in engineering. I asked him how many men and how many women were in the course. “Five men and two women.”

Interesting, don’t you think?

Empowering girls around the world to get equal education, especially in areas of math, science, medicine, and engineering, was a common theme among the dreams that last evening’s graduates had for their work. Sally Ride, who passed away this week after a battle with cancer, would have been there applauding these women and I think the discussion with the young Santa Clara engineering student would have been quite fun.

Sally Ride was the first American woman Astronaut and was also the youngest American to head into space, at the age of 32. She and her spouse of 27 years, Tam O’Shaughnessy, ran an organization called Sally Ride Science, which encouraged girls to study math and science and pursue careers that are overwhelmingly populated by men. Equality for women has a long way to go, which becomes painfully obvious when listening to the graduates of last night’s GWLN program. One participant spoke of her mission to change hearts and minds in India, where people kill or abandon girl babies, especially if they are the third or forth child of a woman who has not had a male child yet.

Sally chose empowering girls to be one of her main causes and her organization will continue to do that, led by Sally’s life-partner, Tam.

News that Sally was gay was a surprise to many who didn’t have a direct relationship with her. Not that Sally was closeted. Like Anderson Cooper, she didn’t keep her life secret from those with whom she was close. Many are noting now, though, the unfairness with which her spouse will be treated by the federal government. With their marriage not recognized by the government, Tam is not eligible for any of the benefits any heterosexual spouse would receive.

I’ve been honored to know Sally’s sister, Bear Ride, a Presbyterian minister who has been out front for years, leading the struggle for GLBTQ equality in the church and in society.

Hearing the incredible stories and dreams of the women at last night’s graduation, reflecting on Sally Ride’s life and knowing that her work will go on, and knowing that Bear is out there continuing the march towards equality for GLBTQ people, combine to give me a lot of hope for our country and world. Maybe in a few years there will be an equal number of women in classes like the one the young man told me about last evening, and more women CEO’s… who knows! One of the GWLN graduate’s goals was to see her country’s parliament change from all male to half women. She said she believed she could make it happen. I do too. If Sally could go into space, each of us can do anything!

So, Ride Sally Ride, and thank you for being what some call a “modest” leader. We’ll miss you!


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