This article was originally written for the Hilltop Views.
A group of roughly thirty-five individuals filled a room on the third floor of Fleck Hall this past Thursday, February 5, to listen to Dr. Shirley McKellar, the founder and chief executive officer of her own company, a retired major who served overseas during “Operation Iraqi Freedom” and “Operation Enduring Freedom,” and a motivational speaker for breast cancer and women’s issues.
The kind-looking, African-American woman stood from her seat in the
front row of the room and gracefully made her way to the podium. After
carefully adjusting her glasses on the bridge of her nose, McKellar began her lecture, “Good evening, St. Edward’s University.”
McKellar (left) and her sister at a political rally
“I want to challenge you tonight to do five things. First, listen carefully. Second, understand what is being said. Third, believe in yourself, because how else do you expect anyone else to believe in you? Fourth, retain what I say to you. Fifth and last, please act on whatever your passion is in life.”
McKellar delved right into her motivational talk on education and leadership. Her personal apothegm, “Reach one, teach one,” was the underlying theme of her presentation, “Unfettered Potential: Military
Success and Women’s Health.” McKellar passionately spoke of the importance of education in today’s world in the shaping of leaders. She stressed that we must share our wisdom with others if we want to instill change nationally and internationally.
“Why should you have knowledge if you won’t share it with others?” McKellar asked the audience.
McKellar spoke of how her experiences in school and in the military —both the good and bad experiences—shaped the natural-born leader in her. She reflected on the monumental day in 1975 that Congress broke down walls for women in the military, and that a mere five years later, 217 women cadets graduated from West Point in Annapolis.
However, McKellar also recalled the discrimination in the military she experienced for being an educated African-American woman. McKellar, who had stood at the podium with the utmost dignity and poise the entire evening, shook her head sadly when she called to mind her stint at Tyler Junior College, where her professor had two exams—one version for white students and another for African-American students. She looked back up at the audience afterwards, and she said she had decided then that she would not allow anyone to make her feel less capable than she knew she was. Decades later, McKellar now sponsors grade-school trips to Tyler Junior College to encourage young girls to pursue math and science. “We can’t let these young girls feel intimidated.”
McKellar brought the evening to a close by emphasizing the importance
of education. “If you have nothing to do or say, read!” McKellar’s diagnosis for what she calls the world’s “education deficient syndrome” is “a dose of math and science, a helping of standard English, a mental health day or two, and lots and lots of sleep.”
As the audience applauded at the end of the lecture, McKellar quickly spoke into the microphone once more, “Students, if a door closes in your face, unlock a window.”