BY ELLIE GERST | The Statesman
UMD’s ballroom was filled with an animated buzz Wednesday afternoon as over 100 women crowded inside the Kirby Ballroom to dine together and hear Duluth’s first woman mayor, Emily Larson, speak for the 35th Annual Women’s Luncheon.
“I highly recommend every woman to go,” student Meghan O’Connor said.
The Women’s Luncheon is an event held every year by the Commission for Women, a UMD organization that was founded in 1981 to help improve the learning and working environments for women at UMD.
All members of the community are welcome to the luncheon, which was held Wednesday Nov.18 this year, and there were women and men of all ages in attendance. Seated at white-clothed tables with flower centerpieces (which were later auctioned off to benefit Safe Haven shelter and resource center), attendees were served buffet style with food catered by UMD Catering.
After a short speech from both Jessi Gile, the chair of the Commission for Women, and Susan Utech, the director of Safe Haven, mayor Emily Larson stepped up to the podium.
After talking about the importance of what Safe Haven does for women in the community who are domestic violence victims, Larson told a story about her childhood.
Larson said that her parents took part in a lot of boycotts, but the one that stuck out to her the most was the Nestle boycott. Larson’s family was not wealthy growing up, so to save money they drank powdered milk. Larson hated it, but every two weeks they got a can of Nestle, which turned their milk into chocolate milk. One week, Larson was helping unpack the groceries and she couldn’t find the Nestle. She thought it was a terrible mistake but her mother corrected her.
“She said that they were doing things that they did not believe in,” Larson said. “I have to tell you, I did not care. I wanted Nestle. But what she said next that really hit me is that what we do matters.”
Larson went on to talk about her love for Duluth and then her eventual involvement in politics, but she kept her comments focused on women, particularly women in politics.
“We make up 52 percent of voters and yet we are very underrepresented,” Larson said. “Women need to be asked seven times on average before they consider running for a position in politics. And you know what’s coming next. I’m asking you to consider running.”
Larson looked around the room at her mostly female audience and concluded her speech with a moving statement.
“The world of UMD needs you to be strong,” Larson said. “We have enormous work to do and I’m so excited that in January we will begin a new chapter where we can do that work together.”
As Larson finished her speech, the ballroom erupted with applause and the audience got to their feet for a standing ovation.
“I think her whole speech was very inspiring,” O’Connor said. “It’s making us as a society move in a better way and women are encouraged to start taking leadership positions which is great.”