Celebrating Our Gold + Silver Award Earners

GoldSilv_Owatonna-128On June 5 in Owatonna and June 12 in St. Paul, Girl Scouts River Valleys celebrated the 2016 highest award earners as well as the 100th anniversary of the Gold Award. This year 383 remarkable young women completed their Silver and Gold Award projects. During the ceremonies, the girls received pins that commemorate their efforts and accomplishments in earning these prestigious national Girl Scout honors. Along with pinning, girls shared the scope of their projects and heard from inspiring speakers such as Pamela Stewart, River Valleys board member and Senior IP Counsel for 3M, who shared her Girl Scout story, words of wisdom, and her list of “top 10 things I wish I had known at your age.”

Read Pamela’s speech and her top 10 list below.

Pamela Stewart
Pamela Stewart

Silver and Gold Award Earners, you should all be so very proud of yourselves. Your accomplishments place you in the uppermost rarified air of Girl Scouting, and we can’t wait to see the great things you will accomplish next.

I’d like to start by sharing a bit about myself and where Girl Scouts has taken me in my life’s journey, and I’ll end with a few parting words of wisdom.

I was born in Chicago in the late 1960’s to parents who were both born and raised in Costa Rica. Adjusting to the United States was a huge challenge for my parents – from learning a new language to adapting to a new culture while still trying to hold on to their roots.

Growing up in the suburbs of Chicago, I often felt as though I never fully fit in, given that outside of my relatives, I didn’t know any other person who was both black and from the Caribbean.   

When I joined Girl Scouts, it was the one safe place that I felt a true feeling of acceptance and belonging. Bound together by a common sense of purpose, there was less focus on individual differences, and instead a focus on how we could leverage each other’s strengths to accomplish the task at hand.

Whether our goal was to complete a group project or an individual one, we encouraged and brought out the best in each other. Girl Scouts opened up new experiences for me like camping for the first time. I was a Girl Scout back in the 70’s, so we did a lot of macramé. Our house was full of macramé owls and plant holders that I made with my mother’s help.

I was a bit shy as a child, and having to venture out on my own to ask perfect strangers to buy cookies from me was a character-building experience I will always remember fondly. It was also during this time that I developed a life-long addiction to Thin Mints.  A habit, which at its most severe, had me buying them by the case.

As I went on to graduate from college with a degree in chemical engineering and later earn a law degree, the Girl Scout lessons of courage, confidence, and character formed the foundation of my resolve to make it through these challenging academic programs at a time when it was still an uncommon path for a woman.

Girl Scouting also instilled in me the importance of serving and giving back. In addition to serving on the Board for River Valleys, I also do pro-bono legal work in support of children in the foster care system for an organization called the Children’s Law Center, and that work has been tremendously rewarding for me.

But, that’s enough about me. Today is about celebrating you. So, I’d like to close with the Top 10 Things I Wish I Had Known at Your Age

10. The best way to overcome your fears is to not over-think things and, like Nike says, JUST DO IT. Even if you fail or wind up looking foolish, it’s a proven scientific fact that no human being has ever died of embarrassment.

9. Speaking of trying and failing, if you try something and FAIL, I encourage you to re-define what you characterize as a failure. At a minimum, failure teaches us what we shouldn’t do, or what we don’t want to do – and there is great value in that.

Failure is often proof that you are trying some new things and crossing some lines rather than always playing it safe. And that’s a good thing.

The only thing that constitutes failure is giving up and not trying one more time to reach for something that you really want.

8. It’s important to find your own path in life. You are all no doubt high achievers in other aspects of your lives beyond Girl Scouts, and as you move on further in your schooling and make choices about college and a career, you will no doubt have many adult voices in your life attempting to steer you in a particular direction. (Some of those unnamed adults might be here with you today.)

I can remember being in high school and telling my family that I wanted to be a pharmacist. They overwhelmingly responded, “Why would you want to be a pharmacist when you can become a doctor?”

I thought to myself, Really??? Do these people understand that I could barely dissect a dead frog in my biology class, much less cut into a person?!?!?

Well, as you’ve heard today, I eventually chose engineering and law, and my life turned out fine – but things probably wouldn’t have been so fine if I had tried to go into medicine.

So, when the adults in your life attempt to steer you in a direction that you know is wrong for you…politely smile, thank them, and then go do what your heart and instincts compel you to.

7. Key elements of life are people and time – so choose people and spend time wisely.

On People – don’t hang out with anyone who doesn’t understand why you are so wonderful – or who needs to be told that you are wonderful — or who doesn’t tell you at regular intervals that you’re wonderful when you forget.

On Time – time is a limited commodity, and how you choose to spend it will determine your outcomes in life. And while you don’t have to spend every moment of every day in pursuit of some major endeavor, you should aim to spend most moments of most days doing something of value.   

6. You too will be old and somewhat unhip one day.

When I was young, I thought that I’d never grow up to be as unhip and clueless as I thought my parents sometimes were.

SPOILER ALERT – You too will be old and unhip one day. God willing, you will live long enough to be awkward and embarrassing to your own children one day.

But, if there is one thing I could go back and do, I would have been more helpful and appreciative to my parents when I was young. I’m lucky enough to still have them around, and it has taken me a lifetime to realize just how cool and awesome they really are.    

5. Never forget the importance of giving back. As Silver and Gold award winners, you have all learned the importance of giving back to the community. I encourage you to keep up the good work.

As you leave Girl Scouts and move into different stages of your life, serving others may become less of a priority as different and new demands are placed on your time. Well, if it’s any motivation, research has shown that people who help others are happier and healthier and live longer than those who don’t.

Try to always stay connected to at least some small endeavor that makes the world a better place for someone else.

4. Learn to say “no.” Sometimes, an unintended side-effect of being as talented and awesome as you all are is that you will get asked to participate in more things than one human being can possibly do. Sometimes you might find yourself saying yes to things because you don’t want to hurt other people’s feelings or let people down. But saying yes to everything will likely lead to burn-out, stress, and overall unhappiness.

So always remember that when you say “no” to something that is unimportant, you say yes to something that is.

3. Learning is a lifetime endeavor. It is often said that the most successful and fulfilled people never stop learning. That has certainly been true in my life. But, if you have a choice, complete any formal education at the youngest age that you possibly can. As you get old, your memory will fail you.

2. Forgive yourself; you are not perfect. Show yourself grace; you are still learning. Show yourself patience; you are on a journey.

And the number one thing I wish I had known at your age…

1. Once a Girl Scout – Always a Girl Scout! Stay committed to keeping Girl Scouts a thriving organization that will empower girls for generations to come.