I was deeply honored to be invited to speak on behalf of Kelly Ward’s legacy at her memorial on August 4, 2018. Please see below for a partial transcript of my remarks.–Leeann
It all started when Kelly called me a rock star. That’s what the subject line said after Kelly attended my workshop at the Women’s Leadership Conference last year.
“Dear Leeann–I loved every single thing about your session yesterday. Truly amazing. I especially loved when you read to us. I can still hear Virginia/You ringing in my ears. … Thank you as well for sharing your story as a way for us to create and recreate ours!! You are an inspiration and an amazing teacher. Kelly” (March 31, 2017)
What a gift to receive this first note of recognition and encouragement from someone whose work I admire. For Kelly, this was just one short note, one small gift, one tiny seed that she planted inside me. But as one of our faculty members said, Kelly knew that small things were big things. Kelly made me feel seen, and valued, and honored. I wouldn’t have fully believed her, if she hadn’t kept coming back to me, honoring me over and over again.
Kelly embodied a practice of mentoring that consisted of slowly and persistently teaching us to believe in ourselves. In one short year, Kelly was a force of nature that stepped into my life and steadily transformed it, and our bond was rapidly tightening.
During my last walk with Kelly, we seamlessly weaved back and forth between themes in our personal lives and themes in our profession. I shared deep personal truths with her that I never would have revealed within the walls of a campus building or a coffee shop. We were both unbounded by the sky above us as we both translated these personal truths into a vision for the future of higher education.
Kelly was famous for her walks, because they perfectly capture what Kelly stood for: connecting with people on all levels, balancing work with life, and walking side-by-side with her colleagues, removing any barriers of status or hierarchy from our relationships. With her fullest of hearts, she walked by our sides, clearing a path for us, blazing her light on us, because Kelly knew that we could change the world.
My last walk with Kelly was also my first one. And yet, you can begin to sense the magnitude of influence she had on my life, and how I will carry on in her path, in her walk, in her light to honor future generations of women after me. If Kelly made this kind of difference in my life, and the lives I will impact, imagine all the women that Kelly has come into contact with over time. Kelly knew that small things were big things. She planted life in us, so that we could plant life in others.
Kelly’s last year as Vice Provost, was also her first year. As Kelly stepped into her position as Vice Provost for Faculty Development and Recognition, she knew that it wasn’t enough to clear the path for us one-by-one. She needed to build a scaffold of new systems of support that could hold up more women up than she could ever possibly reach individually, and she was eminently capable of creating substantial institutional change that would benefit every single member of the university system.
In her letter of application for the position, she wrote, “Without a healthy faculty that has support structures in place it is not possible for WSU to carry out strategic initiatives like the Drive to 25 and the Grand Challenges.”
As we honor Kelly’s legacy, the Association for Faculty Women will collaborate with the Commission on the Status of Women and the Provost’s Office to build an infrastructure for women to continue to grow and thrive at WSU in Kelly’s name. We will focus on mentoring in the Kelly Ward way, with colleagues walking alongside one another on shared pathways.
To honor her commitment to tangible systemic change, we propose a walking path that weaves Kelly’s legacy into the fabric of the WSU campus, to create a space in the bright light and open air, where we can congregate, collaborate, and extend our own branches far up into the sky, where there can be no glass ceiling to stop us.