Dottie Lamm Award Winner
Meet Our 2018 Dottie Lamm Award Winner
In 1987, The Foundation created the Dottie Lamm Award to honor the former First Lady of Colorado’s commitment to advancing and accelerating opportunities for women and their families, by recognizing women and their resilience on the path to economic security. The first Dottie Lamm Award was granted in 1988 and has been awarded annually since. Our 2018 Dottie Lamm Award winner is Athena Clemens. This is her speech from our Annual Luncheon on October 10, 2018.
A flower in bloom
It is such an honor to receive The Dottie Lamm Award from The Women’s Foundation of Colorado and to be here with all of you today. Striving toward a better future, while coming from an economically unstable background is like attempting to grow a garden in soil that lacks nutrients. Toggling between homelessness and foster care in my youth, struggling to focus through the hunger I experienced, and lacking sleep out of fear for my own safety – I have an intimate understanding of the anxiety and insecurity, which, like weeds, only further deplete a struggling bloom.
Strong communities, flourishing gardens
With an unstable home life, it is no surprise that I became independent at age 17. I worked full-time in high school to support myself, while tirelessly focusing on my studies. I was honored to graduate as valedictorian – but I did not get there on my own.
My journey has been a difficult one, and I could not uproot the weeds on my own. It is with support of strong communities that gardens may flourish and reach their full potential…. I want to take a moment to thank some of the phenomenal communities that helped to nurture me, taught me to tend to my own garden, and contribute to those of others in the process.
Planting a seed
My high school counselor at Wasson High School, Ms. Neary, was the first to draw me into her community. While still in high school, I became homeless once again. College did not seem like a realistic option for me. Just as the sun and rain are necessities for a flower in bloom, I unknowingly needed the compassion, grace, and encouragement that Ms. Neary offered. She brought me into her family, and her home while I finished my senior year. She urged me to submit college applications and apply for scholarships to help facilitate my college career. She, her wife – Laura Lee, and their son – Pierce (pictured above) taught me the true meaning of family. Their unconditional love and belief in me, has changed the course and quality of my life, while giving me two wonderful moms and a remarkable little brother in the process. Pierce was 7 years old when I met him. Now 14, I had the honor of having him walk me down the aisle this past June.
But they were not the only ones who dawned gardening gloves and rolled up their sleeves. In 2012, the Boettcher Foundation invested in me as a first-generation college student, with the singular expectation that I would pay it forward by contributing to the greater Colorado community from which I arose. I would not have had the means to attend university without their generous support. As someone who is passionate about learning, teaching, and medicine, words cannot express what that support has meant to me each and every day since. Their commitment to me went beyond the full-tuition scholarship though. In my junior year of college amidst many personal challenges, it was Tiffany Anderson at the Boettcher Foundation who, through my tears and fatigue, helped me to form a plan that led to reaching the goals I’d set in Fall 2012. I am so proud, and indescribably honored to share that I graduated from the University of Colorado Boulder in May 2016 with majors in integrative physiology, neuroscience, and biochemistry, in just 4 years, as intended.
When faced with seemingly insurmountable odds it would have been easier to give up but it would not have changed my circumstances. Ms. Neary and Laura-Lee knew that; Tiffany Anderson knew that. They made sure to plant that seed, so that I now know that, too.
Blossoming and thriving
But my story doesn’t end there. I am currently pursuing a master’s degree in modern human anatomy, and a teaching certificate on the Anschutz Medical Campus. I volunteer with children who come from backgrounds much like my own. I teach them about careers in the sciences, and cultivate the idea that they can accomplish anything they dream. And I get to teach anatomy to medical and dental students along the way!
Next year, I’ll apply to medical school and continue pursuing dreams that wouldn’t be possible without the extraordinary gardeners I’ve met along the way. Many years from now, I will be a neurologist at a teaching hospital, helping mold young physicians, just as someone in one of my future communities will do for me. Year after year, my garden grows more vibrant, as I do just the same.
I do not come from a privileged background, but I am privileged beyond words to be here today. It is profoundly humbling to have the opportunity to encourage each of you to give back to your communities, to stay engaged, and to remain approachable and open to those who may need your support. It only takes one person recognizing and remedying a weed or lack of nourishment in a garden to allow that garden to blossom and continuously thrive.