CECILE RICHARDS. You are the voice of reason, the tireless advocate. Unapologetic and cool as anything. In the vast and expanding universe of women’s health, you stand front and center on the national stage.
But it was in the heartland of the Lone Star State where you got your start. The oldest of four, you found your principles in your father David, a respected civil rights attorney, and your toughness and moxie in your history-making mom Ann, whose name and personality were as big as Texas toast. Talk around the dinner table was similarly never small, focusing on sexism and social justice, discrimination, unions, and equal opportunity. When you headed to Brown University in 1975, you took that family dynamic and defiance along with you, fighting for causes that mattered, and preparing for every battle yet to come.
Since then, you’ve never demurred. Your first career was as an organizer, helping low-wage workers navigate less-than-ideal circumstances. On the job and on the picket line, you met Kirk Adams, your match and future husband. And, in 1990, you moved together to Austin to help elect Ann Richards governor. Following her norm-shattering, bully-busting, unforgettable term in office, you founded America Votes in 2004, a coalition of grassroots organizations committed to getting people to the polls. You also served as deputy chief of staff for House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi. As your mother liked to note, the days when “women made the coffee, and men made the decisions,” were long gone. You can almost hear a “hallelujah” echo in her Texas twang.
When you became president of Planned Parenthood in 2006, you joined a movement that began nearly a century ago with activist and educator Margaret Sanger, a woman who, like your mother, opened the door and held it there. You have built on that legacy with a clear head and a consistent stance, tackling some of the most controversial political issues of our time. You have been resolute amid fiery debates on contraception, women’s health programs, and the value of sex education, aiming always to protect the principle that our bodies are ours and ours alone. Rarely, if ever, do you walk into a room where everybody agrees with you and yet, through budget brawls, legislative reversals, and fervent protests, you never lose sight of your goal to build a healthier and safer world for women and girls. Today, Planned Parenthood can boast more than 700 health centers, services to nearly 3 million patients, 52 million online visitors, and an ever-increasing base of supporters -- many on college campuses just like ours. When President Obama called you to say that birth control would be covered in the Affordable Care Act, you proudly knew it was a moment that would change the lives of countless Americans.
It is this determination and leadership, this conviction and dynamism, which we honor here today—qualities that you share with your larger-than-life mother, and your grandmother Eleanor, another woman who was ahead of her time—and qualities that you, in turn, have passed on to your daughters Lily and Hannah, who both organize and rally like nobody’s business. The feminist family footsteps are clearly marching on.
Today, with a nod to the past and hopes for the future, I am delighted to present you with the 2014 Medal of Distinction. Welcome, Cecile, to the Barnard sisterhood of remarkable women… with all our gratitude, camaraderie, and respect.