President’s Remarks – Annual Meeting 2007

I was told to make an inspirational speech tonight. I mentioned this to my husband, and he suggested that I go online and Google some famous coach, like Bobby Knight or Tony LaRussa, and maybe I could get some motivational remarks from a locker room speech. Aren’t you glad I didn’t do that?! But I did go to the filing cabinet in my office, where I keep an old manila folder titled, imaginatively, “Things to Keep.” I was looking through this for inspiration, and… lo and behold… what did I come across but a copy of a poem titled “Ithaka.” This poem was sent to me years ago by none other than Ann Ruger. Ann and I used to take little one-or-two day get-away trips where we would get into long, involved philosophical discussions about how to save the world and our own souls at the same time. God only knows what we discussed that prompted her to send me this poem, but I’m going to read it, and then I’m going to try to make sense of it all. If it ends up being inspirational, good. If not, at least you’re going to hear an interesting poem.


As you set out for Ithaka
hope your road is a long one,
full of adventure, full of discovery.

May there be many summer mornings when
with what pleasure, what joy,
you enter harbours you’re seeing for the first time;

And may you visit many Egyptian cities
to learn and go on learning from scholars.

Keep Ithaka always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you’re destined for.
But don’t hurry the trip at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
so you’re old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you’ve gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.

Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey.
Without her you wouldn’t have set out.
She has nothing left to give you now.

And if you find her poor, Ithaka won’t have fooled you.
Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,
you’ll understand by then what these Ithakas mean.

(Constantine Cavafy
Alexandria, early 1900s)

So, what does Ithaka, a tiny island off the coast of Greece that was the mythical home of Ulysses, have to do with Women’s Voices? Well, here’s what I think:

Ithaka was a goal. The poem tells us that there many Ithakas. And Women’s Voices has its own “organizational Ithakas”—-concepts we believe in, things we want to accomplish, improvements we want to enable, changes we want to see happen.

Quality, affordable health care for everyone is an Ithaka.
Clean air and clean water are Ithakas.
A quality public education for every child….
A decent wage and a decent standard of living for everyone…
The treatment of women with dignity and respect….
The abolishment of the death penalty….
Religious tolerance…..all of these are “our” Ithakas.
And certainly, the end of the awful war in Iraq is an enormous Ithaka.

So the poem tells us that our journey should be “marvelous,” “full of adventure” and “full of discovery.” I hope you’ve found some of that during the past year with this group. Certainly, there are some things we have done together that I think most of us would not have considered doing alone. Would you have marched in the Gay Pride Parade by yourself? Would you have gone to Jefferson City and had dinner with out-state Missouri legislators by yourself? (If you answer “yes,” then you are more adventurous than I am.)

The poem also tells us that there are “harbours we’ll be seeing for the first time.” This, too, is one of our goals….to become aware of some of the realities that are not a part of our everyday lives. Most of us probably didn’t know how poverty is affecting the average American until Mark Rank talked to us last month. Many of us didn’t realize how we could do simple things to help the environment until Jean Ponzi told us about them. And who knew that a pharmacist could legally refuse to fill a prescription for emergency contraception? Some of these harbours do not bring us “joy and pleasure.”

The poem also tells us to “learn and go on learning from scholars,” which we try to do every month. And finally, Ithaka tells us that the journey we are on will make us “wealthy” and we will become “wise and full of experience.” Well, I can pretty well guarantee you that Women’s Voices is not going to make you a wealthy woman, in terms of financial gain. But there are other kinds of riches that can be gained by working together, in the company of intelligent, caring women. For me, nothing has been more nurturing or fulfilling than to work with you toward a more a more thoughtful, humane, responsible, dignified and caring society.

So, this is our Ithaka. I think it’s worth working toward, even though the journey is often going to be stormy, and we’re going to get tired of paddling, and some of us will probably get sea-sick. But at least we’re all in the boat together, and we’re all paddling, and perhaps that’s all that matters right now. At least, it’s a start.

Thank you for being a part of Women’s Voices. On behalf of all the new officers and Board members, thank you for trusting us to steer this boat during the coming year. We’re honored and grateful for your confidence. We will do our best. And along the way, should we all become “wise and full of experience,” that will be just one of the blessings of our journey toward our own Ithakas.

Thank you, and Namaste.