South Knox girls get empowerment message

Josh FloryOur Town Kids, South Knox

An anchor, an aerospace engineer and a state senator were among the visitors to South Knoxville Elementary School as part of an event that aimed to inspire third- and fourth-grade girls.


The Girls Empowerment Lunch was organized by principal Tanna Nicely, who said the idea was to help students think about how to prepare for their future.

“I thought it was important for the girls to have the opportunity to talk with leaders in our community that are female,” the principal said.

To that end, more than 20 women talked about their lives and careers and provided a glimpse of what’s possible for students at the May 9 event.

Participants included WBIR-TV anchor Robin Wilhoit, who recalled her trip to the White House with Nicely in 2013 as part of a school gardening event with Michelle Obama; Susanna Hogg, who recently earned her aerospace engineering degree and will work on a rocket that carries astronauts to the International Space Station; and state Sen. Becky Duncan Massey.

Katharine Pearson Criss, a senior fellow at the Center for Rural Strategies, told students about her fifth-grade teacher, who had photos of U.S. presidents hanging on the classroom wall.

Pearson Criss recalled that one day, the teacher added a woman’s picture to the wall and told girls there was no reason they couldn’t grow up to be president. “Don’t ever forget that picture on the wall,” she said. “If you want to be president, you can.”

Speakers at the event represented a broad range of career choices in the private and public sectors, including elected officials such as Massey and Knox County Board of Education member Kristi Kristy. The senator told girls it’s important to identify their strengths and to be the best at whatever they do.

“I tell people, ‘Don’t vote for me because I’m a woman. Vote for me because you think I’m doing the best job,’” she said.

While a broad array of careers was represented, they didn’t cover the entire range of possibilities.

Eleanor Efurd, a third-grader at South Knoxville Elementary, said she wants to be a dog trainer, a gem miner or a member of a rock band.

“I liked it when the lady said that I can do anything I want to do,” she added.

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