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Maya Angelou, First Lady Anne Holton and Jehan Sadat
Share Wisdom at RU Symposium

RADFORD -- In celebration of RU’s presidential inauguration, Maya Angelou, Jehan Sadat and Virginia First Lady Anne Holton came together to discuss their experiences in leadership roles and to answer questions from students.

RU's sixth president, Penelope W. Kyle, served as moderator for the inaugural symposium, "Women's Leadership in a Global Society" and noted the appropriateness of the discussion as RU installs its first woman president.

The symposium was one of the day's many highlights as the distinguished women shared anecdotes from their lives and responded to student questions selected from more than 100 which were submitted. They offered advice to the packed auditorium of students, faculty, staff, and inauguration guests in attendance while drawing applause and cheers for their candid and insightful discourse.

(See Symposium photos below.)

Holton, the first lady of Virginia and a former judge who has devoted her career to serving as an advocate for Virginia's families and children, expressed her optimism about the world's future because of the influence of women. All women have different gifts and can contribute, however, she cautioned that women should "be careful in trying to be equal, so that we don't let being equal mean that we're trying to be the same." She cited her father, former Virginia Governor Linwood Holton, as being one the most influential people in her life. From his leadership as governor, especially during the integration of public schools in the Commonwealth, she took away life lessons that have had an impact on her life and career in public service.

Sadat, the former First Lady of Egypt and social justice activist, stressed the importance of education. She believes illiteracy is the toughest barrier facing women today. "Women cannot do what they want to do without education. Education is the best thing to give to women," said Sadat.  She shared a very emotional recollection of the events surrounding the assassination of her husband, Egyptian president Anwar Sadat. October 6 marked the 25th anniversary of his death, yet her memory of that day was crisp as she recalled the historic events.

Sadat spoke of the victory parade as the procession marched through Cairo. There were sounds of air force jets flying overhead, the cheers and celebration of the crowd, and then the piercing sound of gunfire. As she observed through the window of a nearby building, Sadat was pushed to the floor by a soldier attempting to protect her and her family. Bullets were coming in the direction of the window, yet she tried to peek through, but could not see her husband. Her thoughts immediately shifted to her small grandchildren, whom President Sadat had insisted should be in attendance. After seeing that her family was taken home to safety, she visited the hospital where her husband had been taken after being shot. He died within hours of arrival. Again, Sadat thought beyond herself and focused on the immediate needs of Egypt, which had lost its leader. She went to her husband's vice president Hosni Mubarak, who had also been injured during the attack, and told him he must go take care of Egypt.

Her husband's legacy drives her as she continues their mission of peace and remains active in humanitarian efforts for women and children. "All of us have the potential to affect in a positive way the lives of others. There are no term limits on working together and giving service to others," said Sadat.

In response to, "How can women lead?" best-selling author and poet Angelou gave an impromptu performance of her poem, Woman Work, a timely expression of the tireless routine of a woman's workday. "Women have always led," she said. "Some of us have been intelligent enough to let the other group think they are leading." Angelou echoed Sadat in stressing the importance education and added, "All knowledge is spendable currency. Use your intelligence."

As an educator and civil-rights activist, Angelou continues to address issues of race and class and says the mark that she would be most proud to leave is the understanding that "human beings are more alike than we are unalike."

Symposium Photos
Click on an individual photo to see a larger image, or go to the first photo to see them in sequence.

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Oct. 12, 2006
Contact: Stephanie Overton (sdoverton@radford.edu; 540-831-5021)

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