GABRIELLE GIFFORDS: FORMER ATHENA, CURRENT LEADER

For those who might claim that women’s colleges prevent the development of strong and worldly female leaders, Gabrielle Giffords ’93 serves as undeniably solid counterevidence. Recently featured on the cover of “Time” magazine alongside Vice President Joe Biden and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, today she is taking her stand as one of America’s “gunfighters.”

A former Arizona congresswoman, a survivor of the 2011 Tucson shooting, and now one of America’s biggest proponents for gun control, Giffords continues to be a tough yet compassionate fighter and inspiring role model to the upcoming generations of Athenas and to many other women across the country.

At some point Giffords must have made a long list of her accomplishments, written a few essays, and with a couple of recommendations turned in her application to Scripps College. Since then Giffords has somehow managed, despite the “inaccurately idyllic setting” of her undergraduate education, to add new accomplishments to her list as well as to face down many of the world’s injustices. Giffords, a Latin American history and sociology major, was the winner of a Fulbright Scholarship. She was a businesswoman and community advocate who went on to become the youngest woman ever elected to the Arizona Senate and then the “most positive person in Congress.” She rode horses and motorcycles, went on NPR to talk about her love of books, spent time volunteering to aid the victims of Hurricane Katrina, and is the adored wife of former Navy pilot and NASA astronaut Mark Kelly.

On Jan. 8, 2011 Giffords was shot at close range in the head, one of 20 victims. In addition to a certain amount of blindness and paralysis on her right side, Giffords’s ability to verbally communicate what is on her mind was severely altered. Since then she has faced an immensely difficult but remarkably successful road to recovery. With the support of her husband, who continued to remind her that she had been “beaten up” but would never be “beaten,” Giffords has turned her own suffering into a tremendous attempt for her country’s progress.

Although a gun owner herself, she was moved by not only the Tucson shooting, but also the Aurora shooting, the Newtown shooting, and others to create the organization “Americans for Responsible Solutions” and to speak at the Senate’s recent hearing on gun violence, calling for increased measures of gun control. “Too many children are dying,” Giffords said with much difficulty and yet as much strength. “Too many children.”

In less than two years Giffords has gone from not being able to express her tormented sorrow through any word other than “boohoo” back to the bold and articulate woman of action. Within those two years of great struggle and tragedy, Giffords never lost her sense of perseverance, her radiant smile, or the sight of her role as a leader. Perhaps some of the most important qualities of great leaders are more innate, and less so the product of even the greatest co-ed or single-sex schools.

Who’s to say there could not be yet another Gabby Giffords growing and learning among the students of today’s women’s colleges? Who’s to say that being a woman should be considered a weakness or disadvantage in a metamorphosing world of male dominance? The world is often unjust and full of hardship, but even the graduate of a women’s college knows, “It will be hard, but the time is now. You must act. Be bold, be courageous. Americans are counting on you.”