Almost every seat in the Telfair B. Peet Theatre was filled with faculty members, students, alumni and travelers across Alabama who came to hear Gov. Ivey speak in honor of the 125 Years of Women celebration.
Presented by the Women's Leadership Insitute, “Auburn Women Leaders, Past and Present” welcomed all to hear Gov. Ivey and the first three women SGA presidents speak from 4-6 p.m. Admission was free, but as space was limited, tickets were required to enter the event.
Barbara Baker, executive director of the Women's Leadership Institue and coordinator of the event, introduced Lauren Hayes Smith as the second woman in Auburn's history to serve as SGA president.
Hayes Smith thanked the Women's Institute for celebrating an exciting time in women's history at Auburn.
She acted as SGA president in 2008 and graduated with a degree in public relations and German in 2009.
Hayes Smith then went on to work in Washington, DC, for a consulting firm before she earned a master's degree from the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom. She currently serves as founding chief of staff at Valor Collegiate Academics in Nashville, Tennessee.
"It was almost a decade ago when I was standing on a stage similar to this one asking students to elect me to be their SGA president," Hayes Smith said.
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She said her time at Auburn, particularly the year she was elected, was the most meaningful experience of her life.
"For me, Auburn provided a special opportunity for me to seek, to question and find my passions and to begin learning the ways to best serve the community around me," Hayes Smith said. "It was truly here where I learned to spread my wings."
Many people asked her if the reason she was running for SGA president was that, at that time, a woman hadn't won in 20 years.
"I always answered that I wasn't running because I was a woman but because I felt I could get some really exciting and important work done on campus," Hayes Smith said. "It was not about my gender, but it was believing that I was equipped no matter my gender to be really successful in that role to make a positive impact."
Hayes Smith then introduced the first woman SGA president, Cindy Holland Tobert.
Tobert graduated in 1989 and served as SGA president in 1988. She graduated with a degree in public relations and journalism before attending law school at the University of Alabama. She is now a practicing attorney in Montgomery.
"It's really not so much about the number," Tobert said. "Whether you're first or second or even third, it's about wanting to do the job."
Tobert said that when she ran for election, she didn't necessarily think about running as a woman.
"Ultimately I wanted it to be about what was best for Auburn," she said.
Dean of the College of Liberal Arts, Joe Aistrup, was then welcomed on stage where he introduced Ivey as one of the most distinguished alumni of Auburn University.
"She is without a doubt a trailblazer who is very familiar with the words 'first and only,'" Aistrup said.
Ivey served as the first woman vice president of the SGA, the only woman in the trumpet section of the marching band, and she is the only Auburn graduate to win five campus-wide elections in four years.
As Ivey walked across the stage to the lectern, she was given a standing ovation from the audience.
She opened her speech with a humorous take on what she believes was her proudest achievements among all of her accomplishments: Alpha Psi's Rodeo winner for the goat milking contest.
"I just wanted y'all to know about that special first," she said as laughter began to die down.
Ivey then went on to share the five lessons of importance she learned at her time at Auburn.
First, she said, was to be prepared in advance.
Before attending Auburn, Ivey asked dean Cater if she could pay a weeks room and board before classes began to stay on campus to try out for the marching band and be able to walk to every building on campus where she might have a class.
"You see," she said. "I had to get prepared to come to this place called Auburn."
The second piece of advice she gave to the audience was "if you don't enter, you can't win." She stressed the importance that trying is the first step of success.
Third, she said it is not enough to hold a title or position, one must develop results and skills of effective leadership.
Fourth, she pressed on the importance of sisterhood and mentoring.
As a member of Alpha Gamma Delta, she was encouraged by her sisters as a freshman to compete and be active on campus, including running for SGA.
As her closing statement, she read from some of her favorite lines from the Creed.
As she said "I believe in Auburn and love it,” the audience began to stand again in applause.
Baker and University President Steven Leath then joined Ivey on stage to give a proclamation that sets aside the week of Oct. 22-28 as Auburn Women Week.
After a small Q & A session, 2017 SGA President Jacqueline Keck presented Gov. Ivey with the Women's Leadership Institue Lifetime Achievement Award.
Keck spoke about the importance of change in the face of progress.
"Progress cannot be created without differences. Whether that is differences in background, differences in gender and in race. All of these differences create opportunities for endless firsts as individuals and as a team," Keck said. "The boldest and bravest throughout history, men and women, carried the light into the unknown so that others could follow. It is that kind of bravery and boldness that we need to create change."
She thanked the SGA presidents and Gov. Ivey for being that change as inspiration.
After the speech, the audience was invited to join a networking reception where drinks and desserts were provided.
Catherine Milling, senior in political science and Mary Magaret Turton, sophomore in public relations and finance, were thrilled to have attended the speech as fellow members of Alpha Gamma Delta.
"She (Ivey) has always been a big role model for us and to our chapter especially," Milling said. "To see someone, especially an Auburn grad, doing big things is incredible."
Turton said she fully believes that Ivey embodies what it means to be a woman leader.
"It's really encouraging to see as a sophomore," Turton said. "Here you are as you’re about to embark on your own journey so it was nice to see her succeed."
Michelle Johnson, Elaine Anderson and Kristie Lilienthal traveled from Montgomery to hear Ivey speak.
"I think her best point was 'you can't win if you don't enter,'" Lilienthal said. "You have to push to get inference in some of these clubs that have historically been closed to women. You have to push to create some change."
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