Women of Distinction Ceremony
Join us at the Women of Distinction Awards ceremony as these women share their advice, inspiration, and experience with the future leaders of tomorrow (that’s you, right?). After hearing their remarkable stories, you’ll have the opportunity to meet them, face-to-face, during the reception after the ceremony.
Who are the NCCWSL Women of Distinction?
For more than 30 years, NCCWSL has been awarding leaders in their fields, creators of unique programs and services, and lifelong advocates for critical issues. See the complete list of NCCWSL awardees since 1985.
Meet the 2016 Women of Distinction
Founder of Black Girls Code
Associate Judge, Superior Court of the District of Columbia; Adjunct Professor of Law
Founding partner of Female Founders Fund (F Cubed)
Campaigns and Communications Manager for the LGBT Research and Communications Project, Center for American Progress
Writer, Performer, Director, Producer
Read Kelly Tsai’s Full Speech
Good evening! If you’re feeling the power in this room, make some noise.
I feel super humbled to be here with you tonight. My own path has not been very linear. As an Asian American girl growing up in a Midwestern immigrant family, there was not a place for me in American culture where I made “sense.”
Believe it or not, I was a pretty introverted kid, and I found writing as my salvation. In high school, I found spoken word, which gave me a way to say, I’m here, I matter, and I want to share my life with the world.
Repeat after me: I’m here. I matter. I want to share my life with the world.
And the world needs you to.
In college, I became passionate about volunteerism and activism and wasn’t sure how to combine my love for the arts with my commitment to social change.
My parents hoped that I would become an engineer. They nearly passed out when I told them I wanted to be a social worker. This did not get any better when I told them a few years later that I was moving to New York to become an artist.
If you have a high tolerance for being unhappy, I highly recommend that you lower your tolerance for unhappiness as soon as possible. My path has been informed a lot by my stubborn resistance to being unhappy, even when it has flung me into the unknown. Terrifying in the short term but necessary in the long term.
I don’t believe you get wiser as you get older. I believe each age offers its own rare wisdom. I was wise at 21 in ways that I could never be wise now.
In my mind, there’s a party with all the different versions of me over time. Some are arguing in the corner. Some are consoling each other. Some are laughing their butts off. They are all me, who I was, who I am, and who I will be.
I know there’s a lot of pressure in college “to figure out what you’re doing” or “to find yourself,” but I hope you never come to a finite decision about who you are.
Instead, I hope you commit to listening to these different versions of you within, eager to embrace the next you that’s about to surface.
Too many people set this weird timer for themselves, prematurely decide who they are, and press repeat … for decades.
Confidence is a muscle. You must use it every day. Peer pressure is worse in the postgraduate world, since it’s not called “peer pressure” anymore; it’s called “normalcy,” whether the ideas adhered to are good or not.
You must buck this malaise of “normalcy” to be who you are meant to be, with all of your uniqueness, strangeness, and brilliance.
Please do not withhold from us the beauty of the life that is yours.
Another point I didn’t know how to fit into this talk but I think is important is that sexism and sexual harassment are real. Do not think you’re crazy if it happens to you. Whatever you do in life, know that other people’s mistreatment of you is not who you are.
You determine your value. You determine your worth. You deserve to find those who can help you make your dreams come true professionally and personally, without degrading you and distracting you from your purpose.
You deserve the company of those whose confidence, integrity, and intelligence match your own and can appreciate you for the genius that you are.
from alpha to omega and everything in between
from here, I can see it
my life stretched out
end to end
milestones and mistakes
move me forward
from alpha to omega
and everything in between
from here, I can feel it
the little girl who scrubbed her face
hoping her narrow eyes would wash off —
is now, the woman that stands before you
succulent in her own skin
from here, I can hear it
that which beckons me forward
fall fast into the future
peel off layers of the past
prepare pain to be left behind
my voice fills my throat
echoes quiet in my mind
from here, I can taste it
the tears that once would wildly come
I was that girl crying in the bathroom,
on the subway, on the campus
I was that girl who so many nights
didn’t understand why she was even alive
but now, I know why
from here, I can smell it
the certainty of my own skin
my body, a gift that I’ve been given
who will celebrate me
with open arms
why waste even a second of this life
with one who lives life closed
from alpha to omega
and everything in between
you can’t know the end
when you’re right at the beginning
but you will
guide the hands of your destiny
assert your earned authority
knock the haters clear from your back
learn to determine lies from facts
feel again when your heart’s been broke
forgive if you’ve been short on your oath
master the changes you envision
own the weight of your decisions
take what is broken
and form it whole
break what is whole
and form it new
teach us how to live this life
How can I get updates on the ceremony?
Follow NCCWSL on social media for the latest updates.
When does the 2017 ceremony take place?
Stay tuned for an announcement about the 2017 Women of Distinction ceremony.
How can I attend the ceremony?
Register for the conference.
Women of Distinction Award Criteria
The Women of Distinction Leadership Awards are presented annually by AAUW’s National Conference for College Women Student Leaders (NCCWSL) to women who
- Exhibit leadership and pave the way for women in their fields of expertise
- Serve as role models and/or mentors to women and girls
- Demonstrate a commitment to AAUW’s mission of advancing equity for women and girls
- Advocate for positive social change that helps close the gender leadership gap and creates a more equitable society
- Demonstrate an understanding of systems of oppression and utilize an intersectional approach to advocating for positive social change. Give back to the community through their time, talent, and resources
Women of Distinction Selection Process
NCCWSL presents the Women of Distinction Leadership Awards to women who have made outstanding achievement in their fields. Awards are presented to women who represent diverse identities, ages, occupations, and passions. Awardee recipients are selected by the NCCWSL Steering Committee and AAUW national staff following a formal selection process.
Event History and Past Award Recipients
For more than 30 years, NCCWSL has awarded the Women of Distinction Award to groundbreaking women working across a range of fields, from science and engineering to art and government. See the complete list of remarkable NCCWSL Women of Distinction Awardees since 1985.