STEUBENVILLE, Ohio - The annual installment of the Ohio Valley Business and Professional Women's Club's career night featured guest speaker Laura Meeks, president of Eastern Gateway Community College, offering advice and encouragement to the theme "No Excuses."
Her message at the club's Jan. 22 meeting held at Best Western Plus University Inn in Steubenville was directed primarily for the benefit of three members of Steubenville High School's Nike Club, the BPW's sister organization, but could apply to any student reading this - students in that position of pondering what to do with their lives after high school.
The Nike Club members on hand that evening were seniors Jessica Ray and Anna Vasich and sophomore Jada Ray.
The Ohio Valley Business and Professional Women’s Club hosted a Career Night recently. Among those in attendance were, right photo, from left, Mary Lou Jones, secretary; Phyllis Riccadonna, Ohio BPW-president elect; Julie Daley, president; Steubenville High School Nike Club members Jessica Ray, Anna Vasich and Jada Ray; Sara Provenzano, treasurer; and Shannon Minch-Hughes, vice president. -- Staff photo
Meeks explained she had been invited by the BPW to share what careers are available here now.
"Many people think that the economy is sluggish, and things are bad," Meeks said, momentarily holding a copy of a recent Pittsburgh magazine issue, its cover headline touting "10 Hot Fields of Study."
When people in Steubenville lament that their kids have to leave home in order to get a job, Meeks said her response is always that they can go to Pittsburgh.
"We are so fortunate to live by a large city, and we're close to an airport. I mean I can't think of too much you can't do right here, really, if you're good at it, so that is kind of an excuse sometimes people use, I think," Meeks said.
"Tonight, I am going to say there are no excuses - excuses are gone - so the topic of this speech is really what to do, and it's whatever you want, and that is the absolute truth," Meeks said. "There are no excuses any more."
But that wasn't always the case, according to Meeks, who did a down-memory-lane sharing of information to give a past and present perspective.
When she graduated from high school in 1966, for example, Meeks said there weren't any female athletes in her small school in Minnesota because they weren't able to participate. The passage of Title IX, however, changed that as high schools began opening the doors for girls to compete in sports in the early 1970s. Meeks said while one of her sons as a conservative Republican dislikes government interference, her take is that if not for government, there'd be no girls playing basketball.
"Here I am, 6 foot 3, and I was pretty active, and you know the only thing I could try out for was cheerleading," Meeks said, sharing that when her girlfriends from those days gather for a could-a-would-a-should-a chat, they speculate on how things could have been so very different.
Such as it was, Meeks said she was elected to student council, "and I was pretty good." She was secretary, even its first female vice president, but the presidency was a spot historically reserved for males, not females. Her high school years were ones of the FHA - the Future Homemakers of America, a group in which she served as its songleader.
There was no female presence, however, in the Future Farmers of America. "How many do you think were in that when I graduated high school?" she quizzed the intimate gathering of BPW members and guests.
"None," she said of a trend that started to change as she began a teaching career at a small school in Kansas.
The jobs Meeks said that she and her peers had to aspire to included secretaries, nurses, teachers and cosmetologists.
But fast forward to today to Jefferson County, Meeks invited the females in her midst, where Steubenville had a female fire chief and has a female city manager. There's a female chamber of commerce president. And she's the president of a college.
"There are no excuses. Women are running things," Meeks said. "It used to be you could say they won't let me in. Yeah, they do," she countered.
"You have to go get it, but you can do it," she said.
Meeks referenced the Pittsburgh magazine recommending college students learn a foreign language and listing among hot job areas as design professionals, DNA mappers, forensics, information systems, social and online communications and entreprenuerships.
"They also recommend that there are many local, state and national governmental leadership positions now opening up for women," Meeks said.
In 1966, however, Meeks said marriage was the most prevalent occupational choice for women. It was an occupational choice - you chose to get married and didn't have to do something else."
As a resident assistant in college, Meeks recalled the mentoring words of her house mother who said girls are ripe for marriage when they graduate from high school and college. Mothers would advise, she added, that marriage during college would mean college unfinished and tough to return to.
Now that's not true, according to Meeks, who shared the education story of her and her two younger sisters.
"I am the one who didn't think I was smart but people encouraged me to go to college," she said, a luxury her parents could ill afford. Her father drove a truck; her mother, who didn't finish high school, washed dishes in a nursing home.
Meeks went on to get a master's degree and doctorate, both for free.
"I wasn't that smart, but I tried," she said, crediting God for how that turned out.
Her younger sister, she said, married her high school sweetheart, quit college after the first year and got a certificate in medical lab technology that served her well. She put her husband through college instead. He would lose his job, however, and today their jobs produce a lower income.
"The dream didn't work out so well for Vicky because she invested in her husband, not in herself, but she is happy. I am just telling you she made a choice that affected the rest of her life," Meeks said.
Her youngest sister, meanwhile, got a two-year associate degree and does well as the director of a "huge skilled health care facility, and they are paying her to get her bachelor's degree. So three girls and three different stories, and I am not sure who is right," Meeks said.
"I just want you to know that getting an education doesn't necessarily make you happier - it doesn't," Meeks said. "But I want to teach you what my parents taught me. Getting as much education as you can - especially as cheaply as you can without taking a lot of debt and getting it free if you can, and I think as young as you can because it gets harder when you get older and have more responsibilities - it gives you more choices in life," she said.
Meeks said her 36-year-old son is a happy stay-at-home father whose wife has a good paying job.
"There is no one size fits all," Meeks said. "You can be anything you want to be - you can do it either way. You can stay home and be with your children and be a great mother and have somebody support you. You can do that. You can also be a mother and do something else," she continued.
"It's your choice, but the point of it is it's your choice, and there are no excuses. You can't say, 'Well I don't have enough money' or 'I'm not smart enough.' I always tell people if I can do it, anybody can do it, but you have to have commitment."
Meeks said women are empowered, "women are driving the car and fueling the economic engine of America."
She offered a quote from Booker T. Washington, an African-American educator, author, orator and adviser to Republican presidents who was the dominant leader in the African-American community in the United States from 1890 to 1915.
"Success is to be measured not so much by the position one has reached in life but by the obstacles which he or she has overcome," Meeks said.
"There are many successful people who don't necessarily have a title," she said, listing some intelligence, some money and commitment are the necessary ingredients to succeed in college.
"If you don't have a lot of money, and you don't have a lot of intelligence, you have to have an extra cup of commitment, because there are a lot of rich people who are very smart and never make it through college, and they're not very successful in life because they lack commitment," she said.
"I think commitment can make up for a whole lot of lack of money and intelligence," she said, offering persistence, gumption and resilience as commitment synonyms.
Meeks wrapped up her thoughts with another quote from Washington, this one that "No race can prosper until it warrants that there is as much dignity in tilling the field as in writing a poem."
Meeks said her mother and father's ordinary jobs were nonetheless done with extraordinary commitment.
"Every job is worth doing well, and there is dignity in doing that job," she said, adding that the more post secondary education students get, the more career options they'll have.
Julie Daley, BPW president, presided at the brief business meeting where it was announced that the BPW Ohio Spring Leadership Meeting will be held April 13 at the Holiday Inn in Boardman. The Region 3 BPW meeting will be held in Steubenville in March.
Lorraine Linton of the Steubenville Salvation Army and a BPW member thanked members for ringing the kettle collection bells at Christmas, raising more than $480 with help from Nike Club representatives.
Phyllis Riccadonna, who will assume the duties of president of the Ohio BPW come June, announced her theme will be "Bringing on the Glitz."
The Ohio Valley BPW is open to working or retired women for education, networking and lobbying. It meets September through May on the third Tuesday of the month at 6 p.m. at the Best Western Plus University Inn. The meetings include dinner and guest speakers. The next meeting will be held at 6 p.m. Feb. 19. For information, call Daley at (614) 915-7640.