I Was In A Room With Oprah, Sarah And Mary J.

I love award shows and I always cry watching them.  Yesterday I had the pleasure of attending the Minerva Awards, the grand finale of the Women’s Conference, the largest one-day conference for women in the nation.  So why I didn't bring any Kleenex shall forever remain a mystery. Founded in 1985, the conference, under First Lady Maria Shriver's leadership, has become an iconic destination.  Held in Long Beach, the event features world opinion leaders, entrepreneurs, visionaries, tastemakers, spiritual figures, authors, journalists, artists, and women from all walks of life.

Named after the Roman goddess, who also graces California’s seal, the awards portion of the event honors California women who make unique contributions to their community centers.  The award is also presented to women pioneers who have blazed trails and encouraged the rest of us to follow – women like Gloria Steinem, Jane Goodall and Astronaut Sally Ride.

Spoken word artist Azure Antoinette kicked off the evening, followed by a moving speech from Mary J. Blige about being sexually abused and the launch of her foundation for the advancement of women, FFAWN.  Grammy® Award-winning Singer and Songwriter Sarah McLachlan provided the music. It was an auspicious evening, because after seven years, it's the last Shriver will be involved and many of the previous honorees - women like Jane Goodall - were brought up on stage to say goodbye.

What struck me immediately was the diversity of the thousands of women in attendance.  How incredible that this one event appealed to all of them.  I wondered what brought them there?  What were they looking for?  Was it a desire to improve their lives?  To do good?  To network?  To see Oprah?

Admittedly, it was a highpoint for me when Oprah Winfrey took the stage to accept her own Minerva and to speak about the accomplishments of Shriver, her long-time friend.  The living legend is one of history’s most powerful women with good reason.  She has used her voice and position to inspire, educate and empower people – all over the world - and she worked the crowd like the best gospel services.

I was also struck by several recurring themes.  Each woman realized that her life and then her goal was, “bigger than me.”  This realization was usually followed by panic.  Like in the case of Oral Lee Brown who in 1987 told an entire class of first graders that any child who graduated from high school with at least a C average would get a free ride through college at her expense.  Afterward Brown sat in her car and asked, “What have I done?”.

Next, she stopped worrying about who was watching and stepped forward to do what she needed to.  Like in the case of Carolyn Blashek who turned her living room into a shipping warehouse in the early days of Operation Gratitude, an organization that has now sent 550,000 packages to soldiers overseas.

And finally, she realized that she needed support.  Former Supreme Court Justice, The Honorable Sandra Day O’Connor, credited her late husband with encouraging her to step into the country’s most sacred court, after 191 years of it being an all-male club.

Shriver explained that each woman had summoned her inner Minerva.  With her helmet on, Minerva is a warrior for justice; with it off, she is the goddess of peace.

“We have one wild and precious life,” said Shriver.  “Make it matter.”