AAUW Stands United at White House United State of Women Summit

June 29, 2016


At 6 a.m. on June 14, 2016, a line a mile long wrapped around the Walter E. Washington Convention center in Washington, D.C. Thirty minutes later, 5,000 activists made their way through Secret Service to seats at large tables in the main hall. I was one of those lucky few. Little did I know that, for the next 14 hours, I would be networking, learning, listening, talking, and brainstorming with some of the most influential advocates in the world.

I got that opportunity at the first-ever White House United State of Women Summit. The event focused on the progress of women, concentrating on six different pillars of change: economic empowerment, health and wellness, educational opportunity, ending violence against women, entrepreneurship and innovation, and leadership and civic engagement.

The day progressed with champions from all over the United States presenting to the crowd, including equal pay champion and personal friend to AAUW, Lilly Ledbetter. Those who spoke ranged from inspirational actresses who lead their own organizations, such as Mariska Hargitay and Amy Poehler, to government officials, such as House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Attorney General Loretta Lynch, to more than 100 more influential activists. The spotlight speakers received the most applause, starting with Vice President Joe Biden, President Barack Obama, and followed by an interview between Oprah Winfrey and first lady Michelle Obama.

The phrase kid in a candy shop does not begin to describe how wonderful it was to simply be in the room while these leaders of change spoke. However what was equally as wonderful was interacting with other attendees and delegates. During the main sessions I sat next to Velma Scantlebury, who was nominated to attend the summit because she is the first black woman transplant surgeon. When I asked her about her work, she had such a passion describing her 25 years of performing surgeries. Everywhere I went, whether it was at the expo hall, one of the breakout sessions, or even in line at the bathroom, I was able to talk to women who came to share their missions. And I, in turn, got to educate others on the wonderful work AAUW does. Everyone was kind, courteous, curious, and encouraging.

I left the summit feeling more energized than ever to fight the battles that AAUW has been striving to win. Being an AAUW delegate was a privilege on its own, but being able to see how women across the continent and the globe are working together in sisterhood to end the pay gap; end the science, technology, engineering, and math gap; provide better educational opportunity; promote better health practices; engage our civilizations; end violence against women; and be role models for the next generation of women was a pure gift.

I sincerely hope the White House plans on making the summit an annual event and one that AAUW can continue to contribute to while showing the value of the work we do to empower women every day. AAUW and our members and supporters know the fight for women’s rights didn’t end at the summit! I encourage everyone to become an AAUW member, get involved in a local AAUW branch, and sign up for AAUW’s Two-Minute Activist to see how you can get involved in the fight for women’s equality!

Shannon Cholakian is a former AAUW National Student Advisory Council member from California State University, Long Beach.

AAUW wants to thank Shannon along with the rest of the summit attendees, listed below, for their participation and the dedication they show every single day toward achieving equality for women and girls. It’s great to see AAUW’s hard work recognized and acknowledged!

  • Karen Francis, AAUW Public Policy Committee chair and AAUW of Missouri public policy chair
  • Toni Hoffman, AAUW of Pennsylvania public policy co-chair
  • Caroline Hymel, AAUW National Student Advisory Council member from George Washington University in Washington, D.C.
  • Sandra Lawrence, AAUW of Virginia co-president
  • Dot McLane, AAUW of Pennsylvania president
  • Sandra McLaurin, AAUW of North Carolina co-president
  • Susan McNamara, AAUW of Pennsylvania public policy co-chair
  • Patricia Quick, AAUW of Virginia co-president
  • Sandra Smith, AAUW of Maryland co-president
  • Tamelonie Thomas, president of the AAUW student organization at Valdosta State University in Georgia
  • Leslie Tourigny, AAUW of Virginia public policy chair
By:   |   June 29, 2016

Join the Conversation

You must be logged in to post a comment.