“Nevertheless, she persisted,” was the theme of this year’s 28th annual Outstanding Women of New Hampshire award ceremony. The ceremony took place at Centennial Hall in Keene State College’s Alumni Center on Monday, March 5. This ceremony is in celebration of Women’s History Month and is in partnership with the National Women’s History Project, a similar national event.
Each year, KSC honors five women who have shown courage and made a difference in the state of New Hampshire. This year’s five honorees included New Hampshire State Representative Ann McLane Kuster, Franklin Pierce University Assistant Dean of Student Affairs and Retention Jill Bassett, KSC associate professor of Women and Gender Studies Dr. Patricia Pedroza Gonzalez and KSC exchange students from Nepal Benajil Rai and Puja Thapa.
The ceremony included some remarks from KSC Interim President Melinda Treadwell and Associate Vice President for Institutional Diversity and Equity and 2017 honoree, Dr. Dottie Morris.
“Their lives demonstrate the power of voice, taking action and believing that meaningful and lasting change is possible in a democratic society,” Treadwell said.
The first honoree presented was New Hampshire Representative Ann McLane Kuster, who could not be in attendance at the event. Kuster has represented New Hampshire’s second district since 2015. Her nominator, Jane Eklund, read her citation. “Honorable Ann McLane Kuster has made fighting discrimination against women a key piece in her legislative portfolio…She is working in a number of ways to bring oversight, transparency and accountability in curving and responding to sexual harassment and assault in Congress and beyond,” Eklund said. A video was prepared by Kuster, thanking KSC for the recognition of her work and apologizing for not being able to attend.
Both Rai and Thapa, who are attending KSC through their involvement with the Little Sister’s Fund, gave their speeches at the ceremony. According to the organization’s website, the Little Sister’s Fund helps underprivileged Nepalese girls through education, mentoring and community support.
Thapa said she felt “uplifted and loved” upon receiving this honor. She also described how, in Nepal, it is considered a bad omen for women to speak publicly, and a gathering such as this one would be extremely rare to find there. Thapa also said of her mother back in Nepal, “I cherish her more than anyone in my life. She is bull strong, warm and persistent… she has always been the perfect example of an outstanding woman.” Rai also thanked her mother for the courage she passed down to her, and that she is sorry her mother never had the opportunity she now does. Rai said, “Without this scholarship opportunity, I could be married and starting to have kids, like many of my friends in Nepal did at the age of 15 and 16.” Rai, who was also celebrating her 20 birthday that same day, said she felt very fortunate to be receiving the award and to be a part of the Keene community.
Dr. Pedroza Gonzalez was nominated as an outstanding woman because of her longtime advocacy for women’s rights. Gonzalez focused her acceptance speech on the power of “peace, love and understanding” and the power of minority groups who have risen above oppression throughout the years. “Social transformation is not impossible, it is inevitable,” she said. “It is an honor, it is inspiration to keep going in my vision and commitment to work for equity in all aspects of social life. It is also a responsibility of civic engagement, which I am more than happy to engage.” The last acceptance speech was given by Bassett, who received the Monadnock Region recognition. Bassett is the Vice President of New Hampshire Violence Against Women Campus Consortium, guides Title IX education and is an active advocate for the LGBTQ community. Bassett said, “I was so proud that Keene State Owls considered a Franklin Pierce Raven for the award. It just goes to show you what happens when the community puts away any competitiveness and comes together for a common good. I wish some in the White House could take note.”
Similar to Thapa and Rai, Bassett also thanked her mother for being an example of a strong woman.
[Full disclosure- both Thapa and Rai are members of The Equinox editorial board.]
Rachel Vitello can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org