As you know, I have been on this stage many times before for this Hall of Fame Ceremony - but never in this role... and I am both surprised and truly honored.
Honored to be selected by the commission and honored to be in the company of these exceptional women who are being indicted today and those who came before.
My family is here in full force, to share in this event and I would like to ask them all to stand ¬my husband, Jim, and son, Ronald, my parents, Gerald and Wineva Pederson, my stepchildren, my sister, my brothers and in-laws.
They are all an important part of my life and who I am, and I thank them for their love and support.
And, thank you, also, to my good friends and colleagues, who took time on a sunny summer day to be here. (I am sorry it's not raining.)
People say I am an optimist. And, I am. It is one of the things my husband loves and one of the things that sometimes exasperates him. I wish I could take credit for this optimistic attitude, but I can't. I may not have been born with it, but I was raised with it.
I would have to give the credit to my parents, because, more than anyone else, they have shaped my outlook in life and continue to be role models to this day. They work hard, they help others, they are fair-minded, they never complain - they see the glass half-full- or usually, overflowing. At ages 83 and 79, they are still active volunteers and contributing members of their community.
On a recent visit to my hometown of Vinton, I attended the annual church mother-daughter banquet. My mother was the Dinner host and program chair and my dad was in charge of the volunteer kitchen crew serving the meal.
I hope I am so involved at that age. So, I thank you, mom and dad for the lessons you taught me, and are still teaching me, not by lecturing, but by quiet example.
Well, this honor was unexpected, and I have to tell you... today I feel a little like the turtle perched on top of the fence post - I know I didn't get here by myself.
And, I would venture to say that is true for most people who are lucky enough to be recognized for their "Achievements." Most things of significance that get done in this world are accomplished through the hard work of two or three or perhaps hundreds and thousands of people working together toward a common goal.
Seldom, if ever, by just one person, alone.
So, today I want to accept this award on behalf of all the people who have worked before me and alongside me to make a difference in the lives of others.
I recently read a biography of Helen Keller. She's a fascinating and inspiring woman-and I quote her often in speeches.
Most of us know her early story. She lost her sight and hearing at 18 months due to illness. Unable to communicate or understand the world around her, Helen became a wild and unpredictable child. At age 7, an innovative and dedicated teacher, Anne Sullivan, came into her life and we are all familiar with the story of the Miracle Worker - the powerful and poignant scene at the water pump portrayed in the movie by Patty Duke, when Helen connects the water rushing over her hand with the letters her teacher is signing into her other palm.
For that moment forward, with Ann at her side, Helen became a voracious and disciplined student.
Helen Keller went on to graduate with distinction from Radcliff College. She was close friends with famous people like Samuel Clemmons and with Alexander Graham Bell, who not so incidentally was married to a deaf woman - his invention of the telephone was an attempt to design a hearing aid.
Helen spent most of her adult life on the national and international lecture tour, raising money to support herself and her teacher and for institutions for the deaf and blind. When Annie Sullivan died in 1936, another dedicated companion, Polly Thomson, became Helen's eyes, ears, and spokesperson in both public and private life.
Helen was so well known and highly esteemed that she met every U.S. President from the time she was 8 years old in 1888 until her death in 1968 at age 88. In 1964, she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Lyndon Johnson.
Why do I find her so fascinating and inspiring?
First, because she was a woman who could have been considered hopeless. Yet, she became a symbol of hope and possibility.
All of her life, Helen envisioned not only a better tomorrow for people with disabilities, but also a better world for everyone in which social fairness prevailed.
Obviously, she was an optimist.
She said, "Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement. Nothing can be done without hope and confidence.”
She understood what was important.
She said, "The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched - they must be felt with the heart."
And, she understood, perhaps more clearly than any of us, that what she was able to accomplish depended upon the help of others.
She said, "I long to accomplish a great and noble task; but it is my chief duty to accomplish small tasks as if they were great and noble."
I see around me, everyday, in my family, in my community, and across this great state, people who face great challenges to the tasks of everyday living - and yet they go about accomplishing these tasks with optimism and noble determination. They are my inspiration.
Let me just share with you one more quote from Helen Keller.
"It is for us to pray not for tasks equal to our powers, but for powers equal to our tasks, to go forward with a great desire forever beating at the door of our hearts as we travel toward our distant goal."