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Meet Our 2020 Dottie Lamm Leadership Award Winner

// August 31, 2020

Clarissa Jaime Gonzalez Is on the Forefront of Incredible Change

Every year the Dottie Lamm Leadership Award honors a young woman’s commitment to advancing and accelerating opportunities for women all across the state. We celebrate her resilience and leadership on her own path to economic security. Our 2020 Dottie Lamm Leadership Award winner is Clarissa Jaime Gonzalez of Denver. Here is her speech from our virtual 2020 Annual Luncheon. 

My story begins long before I learned to speak. In 2006, my parents decided their home country wouldn’t be the right place to raise their three daughters. Escaping a world of poverty, addiction, and crime in Mexico led them here. But a chance at the American dream didn’t guarantee a life of comfort.

Ten years later, our American dream was slowly being torn apart by my father’s addiction. I began my freshman year trying to adjust to the intensity of high school, yet my mind drifted to the fear of returning home each day. Opening the door to our apartment after school was daunting. I could only imagine one thing: my lifeless father on the living room floor.

Weekdays were full of sleepless nights. I became my father’s guardian. I awoke several times each night to check that my father was breathing. I filled those dark nights studying, this was my life.

A few months later, my father unexpectedly returned to Mexico. Weeks before his departure he experienced an alcohol withdrawal delirium that ended with several cop cars outside of our apartment. His absence created a new set of struggles. My mother took on a physically exhausting work schedule that still didn’t provide enough money for groceries. Although I lived in a food insecure household with an absent father and an overworked mother, I possessed an invaluable attribute: determination.

I was adamant that I wouldn’t give up on my American dream. I was determined to change the course of my family’s life through my commitment to education.

Education served as my outlet. I was eager to be at the forefront of change. In my junior year, I joined STEMBlazers, a nonprofit encouraging girls to seek a career in STEM. I had finally found an intellectually stimulating environment where my raised hand wasn’t ignored.

STEMBlazers offered me a community of extraordinary women who believed in my potential. At our meetings I was doing more than learning, I was dismantling my own self-doubt. The most prominent characteristics of my identity weren’t viewed as impediments rather as beneficial factors that would allow me to evolve into an extraordinary engineer.

Without the support I received along the way, I would have felt incapable of achieving success. The individuals and organizations that believed in my potential have collectively influenced my desire to impact other first-gen, low-income students. My aspirations to transform the world wouldn’t have seemed achievable without the encouragement of the adults around me.

My story of resilience has been shaped by selfless individuals. All it takes to empower the next generation is one person who provides a system of support and encouragement. A student’s personal circumstances doesn’t determine their future, but a community that reassures them about the power of their capabilities does.

As I set sail on my educational journey to pursue engineering at Stanford University, I’m overcome with excitement about the endless possibilities. I’m creating a pathway for students like me, students who never envisioned breaking the cycle of poverty and addiction. I’m at the forefront of incredible change.

Thank you to The Women’s Foundation of Colorado for believing in the promise of women of every background and identity. And thank you to everyone watching the luncheon and supporting The Foundation. You could be that one person who completely changes the course of someone’s life.

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