Diane Patrick speaks of diversifying education

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Monday, September 16, attorney and advocate for education and healthcare Diane Patrick gave this academic year’s first presidential forum on diversity presentation “Don’t Stand Alone: My Stake in your Dreams and yours in Mine” in the Nott Memorial.

Diane Patrick grew up in Brooklyn, NY. She first acquired a Bachelor’s degree in early childhood education from the City University of NY, but continued her education to acquire a law degree, with which she’s practiced law for 32 years. With a focus on the education, health and the overall success of young students, Patrick sits on the boards of the Posse Foundation, The Epiphany School, Massachusetts General Hospital, and the United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack College. Married to the former governor of Massachusetts, Deval Patrick, Diane Patrick served as the first lady of Massachusetts for nine years.

Dean of Diversity & Inclusion/Chief Diversity Officer Gretchel Hathaway, who was first to the stage to introduce Patrick, commented on Patrick’s work with young people in education and healthcare: “There is a passion and a movement in her personality that keeps her doing this work.”

Despite her many vocational and humanitarian accomplishments, Patrick visited Union to convey a message she emphasized as fundamental to her various successes: “Needing a hand does not always signify failure.”

Patrick encouraged the idea that asking for help does not equate weakness, and that individuals can achieve much more and maintain more self esteem if they rely on others during times of need.

Patrick spoke from personal experience, describing herself as the daughter of two very self reliant people- specifically her ex-military father – who raised her on principles of independence and never accepting outsider aid.

Patrick then revealed a time in her life that she had lost herself, and had felt truly alone. “I am the survivor of domestic violence,” she told the audience. Patrick proceeded to describe her first marriage, in which she was trapped by the threat of death for seven years, to a man that gradually became more and more abusive. During these years of struggle, Patrick felt herself losing power, self esteem and feeling increasingly more hopeless. Still, she remained silent, too afraid and too proud to admit that she needed others. She was convinced that by not asking for help, she was sticking to the principles of self-reliance that had been engrained in her as a child.

Patrick marked the beginning of her retirement from this stigma as when she met her second and current husband, Duval. “He offered me his incredible strength. He stood with me,” Patrick explained how Duval coaxed her out of silence, and helped her realize that needing help did not mean she was not strong.

From this experience, Patrick emphasized to listeners, “There is no virtue in standing alone. It is a perilous place to be.”

Patrick then connected this lesson to young students, explaining that success can be much more attainable when students of different diversities, gender identities, as well as anyone who feels alone can be empowered by their peers.

The Posse Foundation, a project that Union and almost 60 other colleges sponsor every year, is specifically in support of this concept.

The Posse Foundation takes 10 diverse high school seniors from each high school in various public school districts and provides them with college scholarships.

Each supporting college takes 10 of these students per year, creating a posse dynamic in which these students can empower and back up each other in order to thrive in academic and leadership roles.

Patrick then brought the discussion back to herself, talking about her struggle with depression nine years ago. “There is a sense you can burst into tears at any moment,” Patrick commented. With depression, she dreaded every day, and despite all of her accomplishments still felt weak and powerless.

She explained how, as first lady of Massachusetts, it was impossible for her to hide her trials like she had during her abusive marriage. Instead, she and her husband announced that she would be taking a break from the public eye.

Patrick then began to receive letters from the public, all encouraging voices, as well as other people sharing their similar hardships.

Because of this, Patrick spoke out about her mental illness to “help those that felt alone,” just as she had.

When her efforts were reciprocated with love and compassion, Patrick explained “They were able to how me compassion because I allowed them to show me compassion. When people stand alone they diminish what they can offer others.”

To end the presentation, Patrick encourages the audience to accomplish two things. The first was to “speak up,” because, “There is always someone who shares your pain.” The second, Patrick stressed, was to “extend a hand,” with which she promised you will gain a “sense of serenity,” as you are liberating someone from their hardships.

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