The women who shaped us.


Like many organizations, FFA marked Women’s History Month by featuring women who inspire us – diverse trailblazers, historical and contemporary, and founders in our community that are earlier in their journey. For the most part, these are folks to be admired from a distance – women you should know, not so much ones you know already.

Sometimes the focus on trailblazers glazes over the impact of real, everyday champions in our lives and careers. As Women’s History Month comes to an end, and with the Champion Awards coming soon, our team would like to send gratitude to our own real life champions. Women who shaped us, gave us confidence, showed us who we want to be, and helped us get to where we are. Read on for their inspiring stories. You might want to grab the tissues.

When you’re done, we invite you to tell us about your champions. Nominations are open until April 21, 2021. (To nominate, click here.)

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Lakshmi Ramachandran, by Divya Kakkad

Mrs. Lakshmi Ramachandran was my first school Principal. I remember marvelling at how beautifully she wore her sarees. Crisp and elegant, not a pleat out of place. I remember her booming voice on the microphone during assembly, her words so kind and commanding respect. I was in awe of her.

Mrs. R could truly “see” her students – and there were thousands of us. She knew everyone’s names, and remembered them for decades after we graduated. When you talked, she would give you her full attention. She saw qualities in you that you didn’t know you had.

When I was 10 years old, I helped write the school play, without planning to perform in it. I didn’t like being the center of attention! Mrs. R nudged me to get on stage, and perform one of the leading roles. “You are the one to play this role, Divya!” she beamed. And she was right. Even though I was nervous, taking that risk was life changing. I performed on stage for years after. She gave me confidence.

Some 20 years later, I ran into her during one of my visits back home. After recalling stories of my childhood, she looked me square in the face and said I made her proud. I felt like a little girl again, this time one who believed her words. Thank you Mrs. R for believing in me. Because of you, I know the importance of being seen and strive each day to do the same for others.

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Yu Laoshi, by Rohre Titcomb

Yu Laoshi was my high school Chinese language teacher. Quiet, commanding, caring and demanding, her focus was always on her students. She had the highest expectations of us, and gave more homework than I’d ever been assigned. Sometimes she’d start class with a lecture about the human brain, and how we only use a small fraction of its capacity. This was a telltale sign that a mountain of work was coming our way. Usually, I got extra.

Through those extra assignments and the time I sought to spend with her, I learned that this woman was a walking masterclass in resilience and perseverance. Yu Laoshi lost both of her parents and was sent to rural China for ‘re-education’ during the cultural revolution. She taught herself English in secret, while surviving that labor camp, risking her life for her future. I was so lucky to be her student.

When you study Chinese, it’s common practice for your teacher to give you a Chinese name. Yu Laoshi honored me with the name Teng Zhuoyi -滕卓仪. It is a name packed with meaning – outstanding, stable, present, gracious, human and just. I was only 13, but already she had insight into who I aspire to be. The name she gave me is the standard I strive to live by to this day, every day.

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Marie Michaelis, by Amanda Eldridge

I was a 19 year old student volunteer when I met Marie Michaelis. We sat together at a quilter’s table and connected immediately. She was the most glamorous 84-year-old woman I’ve ever had the pleasure to know.

We enjoyed each other’s company and I continued to visit her. Eventually, I began to help clean her house, as she “couldn’t reach the toilet, DAAAHHH-ling.” She regaled me with tales of old Hollywood and how she made her way through the elite. She even let me try on her vintage fur coats. They smelled of cigarette smoke from her Rat Pack days of yore.

She constantly asked about my life. In the summer she’d write me letters, and during the school year we’d meet regularly, so I could fill her in on my classes, my hopes and my dreams. After graduation, before I moved away, Marie gifted me with one of her fur coats. She said, “You wear this loud and proud, Amanda, wherever you go.” And I did. 21 years-old and not a penny to my name, but I wore that coat to take out the trash, to drop off laundry and to pick up groceries.

Marie passed away in 2009 at 94 years young. She left me the gift of confidence to be myself, loud and proud, wherever I go.

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Amineh Khanom, by Kaidi Gao

I read and speak 7 different languages, but learning Persian was the most fun. That’s because my teacher, Amineh Khanom, is one of the best people I have ever met.

We met on my first day at Princeton. I was pursuing a master’s program in Near Eastern Studies, and she was a popular teacher whose reputation preceded her. “You will never be hungry walking out of that classroom,” said my fellow graduate students. “The Persian teacher is one of the kindest and most elegant women you will meet.” “Did you know that she came from a prominent family? But she’s so humble and NEVER talks about it.”

Amineh always greeted students with a heartfelt smile. She taught us about her Persian culture and Iranian life by reading Iranian news out loud in class. By bringing tons of Iranian food and pastries on special days, and non-special days too. By inviting Iranian artists to speak with a class of mostly American students, all eager to learn from them.

In that class I learned much more than the Persian language. I learned how to treat people, with compassion, kindness, and a welcoming heart.

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Whoever you are, whatever your gender, I bet there’s a woman in your life that you’re grateful for. I have many. All the women in my family. My BFFs Carolina and Marcela. My high school English teacher, Mrs. Wolf, who gifted me a love of writing. My first professional role model and boss, Wendy. My investors, mentors and dear friends Sarah and Serena. My team, who you heard from above. And the countless friends and colleagues I’ve become close to through the years. These are real people that inspire my work, and keep me going even in the hardest times.

Now it’s your turn. Champion awards nominations are open until April 21, 2021. (To nominate, click here.) Like past years, I will email every single nominee and give them gratitude and recognition on your behalf. It’s one of my favorite days of the year.

I can’t wait to read your stories of real life champions who made you who you are today.

Leslie