By Megan Petersen, Editor-in-Chief Former representative Gabrielle “Gabby” Giffords ’93 accepted Scripps College’s prestigious Ellen Browning Scripps Medal today at a ceremony at Bridges Auditorium. Before an audience of students, professors, alumnae, and other guests, Giffords was honored by speeches and tributes from trustees, the president of Scripps College, the president of Scripps’ student government, and her husband.
Several standing ovations and much praise from these dignitaries notwithstanding, Giffords’ own remarks were short. “Hello, Scripps College!” she said, standing at the podium, beaming as the audience applauded her for over a minute. She thanked the community for inviting and honoring her, and said that while “it’s been a long, hard haul” she was “getting better” thanks to therapy “and yoga too.”
“But my spirit’s stronger than ever! I’m still fighting to make the world a better place,” she said, at which the audience broke into applause for third time since she took podium.
“Be passionate, courageous. Be your best!”
“Gabby was so happy,” Gena Hatch ’80 said later. Through her greeting it was apparent that “she was definitely one of the girls and so happy be back.”
Though Giffords herself was high-spirited through the whole ceremony, it was emotional for many in the audience. “I cried,” said Lauren Prince ’14 afterwards. “It was just wonderful to be in her presence. She’s such an inspiration to humanity.”
Giffords’ inspiration was evident in the speeches given by others in her honor, and in the awarding of the medal itself. Lynne Oshita Brickner ’74, the chair of the Ellen Browning Scripps Medal Selection Committee, said that Giffords’ accomplishments were like that of Scripps College’s Founder, journalist and philanthropist Ellen Browning Scripps: that Giffords had made “a significant and positive difference in women’s lives, enabling all women to live confidently, courageously, and hopefully.”
Scripps College President Lori Bettison-Varga also likened Giffords to Ms. Scripps, noting that Giffords is “a woman who in every sense shares the passion of our founder: for creating opportunities for women, bettering society, and advancing humanity.” As a public servant, Bettison-Varga said, Giffords “has served as a role model with a distinguished reputation as a molder of consensus” and a serious thinker about the biggest problems concerning humanity today. Added Bettison-Varga, “In three words, she is a woman of confidence, courage and hope.”
Trustee Carolyn Revelle, the great-grandniece of the founder, known to her simply as “mother’s Aunt Ellen,” also delivered remarks and personally placed the medal around Giffords’ neck. She said that Ms. Scripps had created a family legacy of “commitment to women’s education,” a commitment she learned she shared with Giffords after meeting her at a Democratic National Convention. Revelle addressed Giffords, “Your confidence and courage inspire us all.”
While almost all of the speakers referred to Giffords as embodying this Scripps mantra, Marta Bean ’14, president of the Scripps Associated Students (SAS), said that Giffords is also a role model and “a leader whom we can look up to as an inspiration for how to live our lives and serve others.” Most importantly, she added, Giffords “make[s] us all proud to be Scripps women.”
Bettison-Varga also shared several stories from alumnae about how Giffords had personally inspired them, noting that “if everyone who wanted to express gratitude to [Giffords] for being a personal inspiration did so on this stage, we would be here for a very long time.”
Accompanying Giffords was her husband, Mark Kelly, whom Bettison-Varga said her family would call “a keeper” for is love and devotion to Giffords. Throughout the ceremony, the two were smiling and talking to each other and their commitment to one another was evident in their interactions. Kelly offered some remarks, saying he was honored to accompany her to the ceremony, and that his wife reminds him “every day to deny the acceptance of failure.”
Kelly mentioned his and Giffords’ current work as leader of the advocacy organization and political action committee she and Kelly founded, Americans for Responsible Solutions.
After the tragedy at Sandy Hook last year, Kelly said, “Gabby said what many Americans said: ‘Enough.’” Since then, Giffords, a gun-owner herself, has been “standing up for millions of people who have long been shut out of our nation’s debate about guns” and representing “a huge majority of Americans who believe in common sense solutions…that will keep us safer while protecting the rights of responsible people who own guns.” Kelly said that their organization is now “500,000 members strong” and that it has “a heck of a leader at its helm.”
He continued, “Gabby has the courage and she has the voice that this movement needs. I can tell you, that’s not always easy. But Gabby is as fearless as she’s ever been. Like a true Scripps alum, she is tough, she is brilliant, and most importantly, she is not afraid of a good challenge.”
Kelly also shared some anecdotes from Giffords’ time at Scripps. He said that, aside from her coursework in Latin American studies and Sociology, Giffords played the French horn and raced motorcycles at the Ontario track. “She didn’t actually do both of those things at the same time,” he joked.
Kelly said that her experiences as a student there “helped her become the pioneering woman she is today. …She loved being here. She loved everything about this place,” he continued. “At Scripps, she learned to follow her heart, to listen, and to stand up for what sh thought was right. Gabby also embraced the Scripps ethos that each of you know well, and that’s to support the women around her and to see the value of the contributions that they have in society.”
He added. “For her, support of other women is not only principle. It’s practical.”
“She’s a good person to have been honored,” said Neha Vaingankar ’16. “She’s very gracious.”
Added Aida Villarreal-Licona ’16, who is from Giffords’ Arizona district and attended the same high school as Giffords, “I knew of her before the tragedy and everyone [in the district] loved her and what she did. It’s nice to be in a community where people still appreciate her.”
The medal’s selection committee included trustees, professors, alumnae and current students Rachael Grate ’15 and Jennifer Anne Smith ’16.Giffords is the third recipient of the Ellen Browning Scripps Medal. Previous recipients were Hillary Rodham Clinton and Sandra Day O’Connor.