Four William Smith alums — Rachel Henderson ’06, senior vice president of corporate social good at Fenton; Delvina Morrow ’09, director of strategic and community initiatives for the Pittsburgh Penguins; Joann Skinner ’18, a first-year Drexel University law student; and the Rev. LaKisha Williams ’96, assistant director of advocacy and community engagement for #DegreesNYC — gathered to discuss engagement, resilience and community in a virtual talk on Nov. 12.
“I’m confident that in our most difficult times … in the midst of our own struggles and failures, it’s how we overcome those moments with bravery that we really shine,” said Fenton VP Rachel Henderson ’06.
The talk was held to mark Founder’s Day, honoring the signing of the deed of gift that established William Smith College in 1906 and celebrating the achievements of William Smith students and alumnae.
William Smith Dean Lisa Kaenzig P’22 opened the program by introducing Irini Konstantinou ’23, treasurer of William Smith Congress, who shared the story of the College’s founding. Acknowledging the challenges students have faced during the coronavirus pandemic, Konstantinou said the panelists’ stories of “resilience and perseverance and determination reassured me that although we go through hardship and although we face these tough times, there’s light at the end of the tunnel.”
President Joyce P. Jacobsen echoed Konstantinou’s remarks about the challenges of 2020, highlighting the importance of engagement in creating community and social change. “By community and engagement, we will move forward together,” Jacobsen said.
Director of Alumni and Alumnae Relations Chevanne DeVaney ’95, P’21, P’23 introduced each panelist, beginning with Rachel Henderson ’06 and her work at Fenton, a social change communications agency focused on progressive issues such as climate change, racial justice and human rights. Henderson described what it was like to be on campus in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks and during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, drawing comparisons to the challenges brought about by the pandemic today. She also discussed highlights from her career, including working with NBA star Stephen Curry and cyclist Lance Armstrong, as well as her successful battle with cancer. “Our lives and our careers are all unpredictable and we will face uncertainty in our lives,” Henderson said. “It’s how we handle those moments of bravery and overcome them that makes us successful.”
With the Pittsburgh Penguins professional hockey team, Delvina Morrow ’09 oversees corporate social responsibility efforts for the organization and most recently took on the role as co-chair for their diversity, equity and inclusion council. In her remarks, she candidly discussed missteps she made on campus that led to being excluded from the study abroad program to South Africa. It was the wake-up call Morrow needed; the next semester she made the Dean’s List and eventually studied abroad in India. “I took what was tragedy and turned it into the fuel that has propelled me forward in every moment of my personal and professional life,” she says. “I wanted to be known for my impact and contribution.” Morrow encouraged students to consider consequences, action, change and engagement, reminding them that even in times of uncertainty, they have control of the impact they make on communities and people around them.
Joann Skinner ’18 came to William Smith certain she was headed to medical school, but soon realized that wasn’t the right path for her. Grateful for the opportunities provided by a liberal arts school to take courses in a range of disciplines, she eventually settled on economics and Spanish and Hispanic studies. Studying abroad in Argentina and working at the Boys & Girls Club of Geneva led Skinner to the realization that she “wanted to work directly with people who are impacted by the policies I spent four years learning about.” After graduation, she served as a mentor for the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants in their Albany field office and worked as a case manager at Schenectady Community Action Program addressing issues such as unstable or unsafe housing, mental health, childcare and food insecurity. Skinner is now in her first year at Drexel University’s Thomas R. Kline School of law with the goal of becoming a public interest attorney.
The final speaker was the Rev. LaKisha Williams ’96 who discussed her work for #DegreesNYC, a collective impact initiative that focuses on educational equality. She also serves on the steering committee of the New York State Poor People’s Campaign. She began her time on campus as a psychology major, but soon found a better fit in the Religious Studies Department — a decision that was solidified after both funk musician George Clinton, on campus to perform with his band the P-Funk All Stars, and philosopher, author and activist Cornell West, invited to participate in the President’s Forum, suggested she attend seminary school. After several years working with Rev. Al Sharpton and his National Action Network, Williams shifted her focus to women’s and youth ministry. She spoke to students about the power of love. “Love is that thing that makes you get up out of bed and it makes you sit up at night strategizing about how you’re going to change the system,” Williams said. “Love is that thing that helps you to change the trajectory of somebody else’s life because somebody’s love did it for you.”
To view the panelists’ complete remarks as well as the question and answer portion of the event, click here.