Starcher speaks at Girls State gathering

By The West Virginia Record | Jun 20, 2007


WHEELING -- West Virginia Supreme Court Justice Larry Starcher spoke June 14 at the American Legion Auxiliary's Rhododendron Girls State in Wheeling.

The prepared text of his speech follows:

Good afternoon! It's a pleasure for me to be here at Wheeling Jesuit University at the American Legion Auxiliary's Rhododendron Girls State. I know that it has been an exciting week for each of you – making new friends (many of whom you will keep for life), learning how government works, and taking an active role in simulated acts of governance.

The first thing I want to tell you is that this will be a "brief" speech. It will be brief because I remember what I thought of long speeches when I was your age – and, quite frankly, it is how I still feel about long speeches. So, I will follow that modern-day beatitude: "Blessed are the brief, for they shall be invited to return."

Today is a day of great joy and pride for all of the Citizens of Girls State. Victor Hugo, an early poet, said: "Dream no small dreams; they have no power to stir the souls of men" – and I should add, "nor women." We are glad that each of you young women are daring to dream big. Dreams that you foster in your youth will be fulfilled over the coming years – when you leave home to further your education, to travel or to begin a career.

What you now have as a glimmer of your future – in some way – will become reality. The commitment that you give to your dreams will be mirrored by the success you achieve in life. This week – here at Girls State – is an important experience in the moving toward fulfilling your dreams.

When adults address young people, it is customary for us to say something about the challenges and opportunities that young people face today. Advice is given, usually of the "be good, work hard, and you will succeed" variety. But I seriously question as to whether anyone pays much attention to these kinds of remarks. Nevertheless, I can't resist the pressure of custom – and this captive audience. So here's my two cents on challenges and opportunities, and a little free advice.

I want to begin by saying to you young women, that in many ways it is still a "man's world" – although it is somewhat changing. It is no longer totally a man's world. In my law school class in 1967, there were but five women; today our law school classes are approximately 50% women – and that same trend is pretty much reflected in other professional schools.

My oldest daughter is a lawyer; my youngest, a hospital administrator – both positions that likely would have been held by men thirty years ago. But this change has not just happened; it has come about because there have been women who have been out there fighting for and forcing that change.

Let me briefly tell you about a couple women who made the news recently in addressing what is, perhaps, the remaining major "hurdles" in the workplace with respect to gender equality – equal pay for equal work, and equal opportunity for advancement.

A couple weeks ago, our U.S. Supreme Court handed down an opinion (law) that will make it more difficult than it already is for women to challenge sex discrimination and pay disparity in the workplace.

In a very close 5–4 decision, five male justices voted to set a very unreasonably short period of time for a woman to go to court to challenge workplace discrimination. But, it was a decision that the only woman on the Court, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, and four male justices could not go along with. So, they dissented. Justice Ginsberg wrote a stinging dissent which included a request that Congress take some action to better protect women's rights at work.

And, in response, Sen. Hilary Rodham Clinton has pledged to introduce legislation in Congress that would remove the "hurdles" that this very bad court decision has placed on equal pay claims.

Now it was not just coincidence that these two women became successful leaders in what has heretofore been a "man's world." I think it was because these women studied hard, worked hard, and won the right to hold the positions they now have – just as women have historically fought to achieve the right to vote, the right to serve on juries and the right to become part of traditional male professions and to work in previously male-dominated workplaces. And, because of the historical need for women to fight for these rights, women have often exhibited sufficient courage to ensure success.

None of us know for certain where our lives will take us, but one thing I do know is that you young women here will move forward to fight yet un-won fights for equality – like the equal pay for equal work fight, and the fight for a higher percentage of women in top level business and government positions. Since 1863 we have had but two women on our State Supreme Court; we have yet to have a woman governor. For sure, there remains considerable disparity in the workplace.

So, my best advice to you is – dare to dream big, dare to be a trail blazer, and fight for gender equality. And, in the not-too-distant future, we will see you as leaders in government – judges, or a governor; as well as in business, engineering, education, medicine or religion. Your experiences here at Rhododendron Girls State will serve you well as you make your journey.

I want to wrap up with a few words from a book that I often use when I read to elementary school children, the same book that I used more recently as part of a commencement address I gave to a Virginia law school graduating class. It was written by a famous author who you all know –
Dr. Seuss, and the book is Oh, the Places You'll Go!

The message in this book was a high school graduation address given by Dr. Seuss some years back. But the message is also appropriate for all of us here today. I have chosen a few passages from it that I want to share with you as you leave Girls State and go back to your respective high schools for your final year, and then on into adulthood. The passages I have selected go:


Today is your day.

You're off to Great Places!

You're off and away!

You'll be on your way up!

You'll be seeing great sights!

You'll join the high fliers

who soar to high heights.

And will you succeed?

Yes! You will, indeed!

(98 and 3/4 percent guaranteed.)

So ...

be your name Buxbaum or Bixby or Bray

or Modecai Ali Van Allen O'Shea

you're off to Great Places!

Today is your day!

Your mountain is waiting.

So ... get on your way!

Good luck, and God bless each of you.

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