Watermark Reflections by Scholarship Recipient Monica Aharonian

Monica Aharonian is and 18 year old Senior, living in Saratoga, and attending Westmont High in 13882677_10201977861164693_1265571688941421674_n-2Campbell. She is interested in radiology and politics and hopes to attend Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. Her hobbies include exercising and playing the guitar.

Attending the Watermark Women’s Conference, with the help of AIWA-SF has been one of the most inspirational and interesting experiences I have yet had. Throughout my day, I was fascinated to learn different techniques of how to make yourself heard as a woman, in a male dominated world. As someone who has been pondering the field of either medicine or politics, the messages conveyed by the speakers were something to be taken and applied to the real world of my future.

Our first speaker was happiness psychologist and expert, Shawn Achor. He emphasized the power that you yourself have on your own mindset and happiness. As a society, we are taught that money buys happiness, and other people can affect your mood when in reality, we are responsible for our own happiness, and our outlook on life influences us more than we think it does.

Annie Clark came to the stage and spoke of a traumatic event in her life: being raped in college at North Carolina. She however used this as motivation to become a women’s rights activist, after disliking the way her school dealt with her case. Annie founded the End Rape on Campus group to end sexual assault on universities. In a smaller private room session, Berkeley Alum Sofie Karasek spoke of her similar situation and poor university administration treatment in order to act upon this to the legislative level. Sofie’s court case is still pending and had the school followed the Title IX enforcement, the perpetrator would face the consequences he deserved. In the current society, unfortunately, very few rapists face consequences while the victims aren’t always believed and are even slut shamed, which results in less and less cases actually being reported. Listening to Annie and Sofie speak about how they made an impact shows that if you’re loud enough, your voice will be heard. They were able to start an organization as well as make reform on their campuses.

We were lucky enough to have the iconic Facebook COO, Sheryl Sandberg, pop by to have a Q and A session with Kara Swisher, Founder of Recode. Having one of the most powerful women in the tech world come and speak was an honor, and it was touching to hear her stories about her relationship with Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla, as well as overcoming a huge struggle in her life, her husband’s death. Not just on the Facebook board, Sheryl started LeanIn.org to empower women by having peer group meetings, and educating women on how to lead and how as a society, we can finally achieve gender equality. By the time I’m old enough to do something myself, hopefully we will have progressed but I intend to start an organization or charity in order to help women all over the world reach their full potential.

Luvvie Ajayi, author of I’m Judging You, told the audience about her career transition, from a nine to five job to a blogger and author. Luvvie has a blog and is also the founder of The Red Pump Project, focused on impacts of HIV and AIDS on women. Her humor and warm smile spread through the audience, as she talked about her love for shoes and social justice. She taught us that sometimes, a career transition may be slow and unstable at times, but it’s more important to take risks and go for your hobby or something that you love over something that may not invoke as much passion and interest but has stability.

Actress Viola Davis’ speech started with the hardships of her life, living in a tiny apartment infested with rats with an abusive father. Using high school theatre as an escape from this, she worked hard to later be admitted to Julliard’s and pursue her dream of acting. By the end of her speech, I was in tears, listening to her talk about the horrors of her childhood, praying in the middle of the night for her parents’ fighting to stop. Viola’s life stands as the epitome of the cliche but applicable quote, “follow your dreams.” Despite all the difficulties she faced at home, she managed to reach her ambitious goal of making it across our screens. Although most of our home problems are miniscule compared to what hers used to be, we can use her life story as motivation to get through any hard times and focus on what we want most.

Finally, politicians Condoleezza Rice and Madeleine Albright had a Q and A session with Kara Swisher. Both were previously Secretaries of State and I found it interesting listening to opposing party politicians talk on the same topic with different rhetoric and obviously viewpoints, although they did agree on a few things. I admired Rice’s professionalism and elegance as well as Albright’s humorous and more straight up answers. When asked about a current political topic, Rice answered with a polite and mellow response while Albright began with, “well, I’m not going to be as polite,” and made the entire audience laugh. These women showed us that it’s important to be objective in life and with objectiveness, it is possible to be friends just as they have been for a long time.

Attending this conference was an eye-opening and inspirational experience. Living in the current world, at times you feel that as a woman you are restricted in ways both literally and emotionally. After watching these women and some men tell their stories, I have come to the realization that although it may be harder to get your voice across, it is still possible with the right techniques and volume.

One of the focus areas of AIWA-SF is education, with many active projects in the Bay Area and Armenia. To contribute to our educational initiatives, please click on the donate link on the top right corner of our home page: https://aiwasanfrancisco.com. We appreciate donation contributions in any amount. Thank you!

To learn more about AIWA, please visit http://www.aiwainternational.org. To get involved with the AIWA-SF affiliate, please visit http://www.aiwasanfrancisco.com or send an email to aiwasanfrancisco@gmail.com.

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