By Tessa Jillson
Each year, during Women’s History Month, FSU holds the Phenomenal Woman ceremony to
congratulate the women of FSU who have affected others in some way. The ceremony is dedicated to poet Maya Angelou, who spoke out about civil rights and inspired others with her can-do attitude. The event is named after Angelou’s poem, Phenomenal Woman.
This year, on March 7, at the 11th annual ceremony, 39 women were nominated for their remarkable achievements. English professor Lisa Eck, nominated by senior Allie Carroll and junior Emily Robinson, won the award and received a standing ovation.
Eck said she originally planned on slipping out early to grade papers, but once the ceremony started she got so caught up in all the ‘amazing tributes.’
She said, “I was thinking about how the ritual nature of the ceremony is so beautiful because it is inclusive – everyone got recognized and everyone got to read about their accomplishments.”
Eck added, “As I sat there, I was really rooting for the amazing student nominees, and for the Sodexo women who were nominated. So, when my name was read, I was literally speechless – and I’m never speechless.”
Eck said she felt “sheepish” receiving the award since she was “in the company of so many worthy nominees.”
She said, “The award felt like a wider form of recognition and that in itself is both rewarding and encouraging. My hope for the award going forward is that there might be a Phenomenal Woman Award for students, staff and faculty – three total.”
The award made Eck feel “deeply grateful” for the women who nominated her. The letters in particular were the most important to Eck since they “represent people taking the time to tell me what it all meant to them and what they saw,” she said.
“If I were to give credit to anyone, it would be to my students and my colleagues, who make my day-in, day-out experience of being an FSU professor so inspiring and ultimately, so empowering. Being at FSU makes my life meaningful. I am never bored – that’s for sure,” said Eck.
Robinson said she nominated Eck because she makes her students feel important. She said Eck is one of the most kind-hearted women she has come to know and can automatically brighten someone’s day with her optimistic attitude.
“There is no ‘running into’ Lisa Eck. She isn’t the type of woman you wave to in passing before going about your day. She stops you, asks you how you are doing – how you are really doing – tells you about something that happened the other day that made her think of you, and seals it with a hug. Suddenly, seeing your professor in the hall turns into a 20-minute-long conversation and you feel a little better about your day,” Robinson wrote in her nomination.
Eck recently went on a trip to India with a group of FSU students, including Robinson and Carroll. Robinson said while on the trip, Eck and some of her peers contracted an illness, but Eck still kept spirits high.
“She spreads joy everywhere she goes. Knowing her has made me a better person and I strive to be as kind and loving as she is,” Robinson wrote in her nomination.
Josee Vachon-Cevallos, Franco-American singer and wife of President Cevallos, also talked about the role of a phenomenal woman and how she learned that the smallest things can influence people in the biggest way.
Vachon-Cevallos said, “After 35 years of performing, I know my audiences have grown up with me. I often get letters or emails from fans sharing their joy or nostalgia with the music.”
She told a story about a letter she received from a nursing home regarding an Alzheimer’s patient. The patient had been unresponsive for years, until one day, another patient began to play French music. The nurses were astonished to see her singing along. Later it was discovered that French was the patient’s first language.
Vachon-Cevallos said she believes “all women possess a sense of purpose and commitment,” and in order to progress they must continue to be themselves, know their strengths, be confident and smile.
David Baldwin, associate dean of students, who led the ceremony, said a phenomenal woman is someone who gets past the “pain of her experiences” and “catapults herself to the forefront.”
He said even though time is progressing, the nation seems to be moving backward, making progression even harder, especially for women after the recent election.
“We thought progress had been made. It appears that we are regressing, as if a BAND-AID® was being peeled away from our society slowly, almost daily, to expose nasty wounds that mark our country – more painful with each day that goes by,” said Baldwin.
He said he wondered what Angelou would have to say about the turmoil in America. Baldwin continued to read a snippet from Angelou’s 1978 poem, I Still Rise, which states, “You may shoot me with your words, / You may cut me with your eyes, / You may kill me with your hatefulness, / But still, like air, I’ll rise.”
Baldwin said, “I think we have to remember to rise and keep rising above the mess we are facing right now.”
Editor’s note: Brittany Cormier, Alexandra Gomes, Amanda Martin, Emily Robinson and Julia Sarcinelli are all members of The Gatepost editorial staf.