Photo Credit Jan Garrison
Culver Women's Celebration
March 5, 2020
Olivia Ma and Joyce Pu

If you want to “be legendary,” just be your best “you.”

That was the central theme coming from the three featured speakers at the Culver Women’s Celebration program Wednesday afternoon. Joyce Pu, Jeanine Gozdecki and Emily LeVan each talked about how they have traveled down their own slightly crooked paths.

Joyce Pu, who was nominated and introduced by Olivia Ma ’22 (Shanghai, China), admitted that she is still “an ordinary college freshman trying to figure things out.” But she is also the founder of the student-run Kilo Theater in Shanghai, which brings American Theater education and performances to under-privileged students during the summer.

The theater program started with 11 students in 2017 and has grown to more than 100 in 2019. She relies on her persistence, which she developed while learning to play the pipa, a Chinese stringed instrument. She nearly quit, setting it aside at one point, but came back to it and has been playing it for 13 years. Now Chinese folk music “is an important part of my life.”

She also discovered her participation in different high school programs helped her learn how “to put words into action.” Those experiences, from playing in a rock band to serving on a student philanthropy council, came at a “crucial time,” she said.

A theater major at Northwestern University, Pu said she has learned the “importance of the mission” and how to articulate that to your connections. Her family and advisers supplied the initial funds “since it involved real money” to get the Kilo Theater started.

As the program has grown and become more complex, she has developed a team to work on the group projects. She is learning about collaboration, listening, communicating, and bonding along with everyone else, Pu said. “We are holding each other accountable.”

Pu finished by reminding the CGA students that being you is good enough, because “your voice matters.”

Mary Cate Wright and her mother, Jeanine Gozdecki

Jeanine Gozdecki is a partner in the law firm Barnes & Thornburg. Introduced by her daughter, senior Mary Cate Wright (South Bend, Ind.), Gozdecki talked about how women have progressed legally. She noted that in the 1964 Civil Rights Act, that the word “sex” was added as an afterthought to the language “race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.”

Title IX, which required women to receive equal treatment in federal educational funding, was passed in 1972. That proved to be “the great equalizer” in advancing women’s athletics, she said. And banning discrimination against pregnant women in the workplace didn’t become law until 1978.

For her own path, Gozdecki said, “I did everything wrong.” She graduated from the University of Notre Dame in 1985, worked for WNDU in South Bend, Ind., as a broadcast journalist, and returned to Notre Dame for her law degree in 1992. While working at WNDU, she said the female reporters would talk about how great it would be to have two female anchors on-air at the same time.

She also brought with her a series of etiquette books that have been updated as the years have progressed, showing how times have changed in society and the workplace. She added that the basic principles of courage, discipline, joy, respect, and forgiveness are always needed. And everyone should have enough humility to remain open-minded.

Gozdecki finished by reading Theodore Roosevelt’s “The Man in the Arena” speech – with some changes.

“The credit belongs to the woman who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends herself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if she fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that her place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

Brett LeVan (left) and her aunt, Emily LeVan

After her niece Brett LeVan ’21 (Newton, Kan.) introduced her, Emily LeVan said Gozdecki literally took the words out of her mouth since she also planned to use Roosevelt’s quote. A world class marathon and ultra-marathon runner, LeVan said, legendary status in New England is reserved for people like quarterback Tom Brady or Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

“Defining Your Own Measuring Stick” is more important to her, she said. Being authentic involves courage, resilience and grit. It’s also realizing that everyone is imperfect, flawed and vulnerable. She actually found running after realizing she would not be a championship tennis player at age 11.

After college and getting her nursing degree, she started running marathons. She quickly moved into the elite ranks, being the fastest woman at Boston twice (2005 and 2006), representing the United States in the World Track & Field Games in 2005, and qualifying for the Olympic Trials in 2008.

LeVan was logging 100 to 120 miles per week training while still pulling a full shift in the emergency department during this time. But everything stopped when her 3-year-old daughter Maddie, was diagnosed with leukemia in November 2007. While the survival rate was 85 to 90 percent, she said, treatment was still going to take three years.

The leukemia “recalibrated our lives,” she said, and she thought about not running because of all the traveling and treatments required. But her family, especially her husband Brad Johnson, insisted that she continue. So LeVan decided to turn her Olympic Trial run into something greater. She would use her platform as an elite runner to raise money for the Maine Children’s Cancer Program and awareness about children’s leukemia.

Since she was running a marathon and Maddie was on her marathon run, the goal was set at $52,400 (26.2 miles x 2) and she had three months to do it. But in that time period, the campaign took in more than $77,000. She finished eighth in the race, but her impact was far greater. It showed what can happen as the result of a single action, LeVan said.

Now, Maddie is celebrating her 10th year cancer-free and LeVan will be receiving her doctorate from Duke University this spring. And this is while working as a chief advanced practice provider at the Central Vermont Medical Center and training and competing in 50- and 100-kilometer ultra-marathons.

The CWC celebration is also the start of countdown to the CGA 50th anniversary celebration in 2022.

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