ST. BONAVENTURE, NY - “Is she not the renaissance woman?” Sister Margaret Carney, O.S.F., said of Chernice Miller during her welcome speech at the 15th Annual Dr. Mary A. Hamilton Woman of Promise Award ceremony. After hearing the list of accomplishments Miller has achieved in her four years at St. Bonaventure University, it was impossible for the audience to disagree.
Miller is a senior with a double major in theater and in journalism and mass communication. She is involved with the Regina A. Quick Center for the Arts, the SBU Choir and University Ministries and has directed, stage managed, written a film, travelled and worked on planning events, all while maintaining a passion for happiness.
Before the award presentation, Deb Henretta, class of 1983, spoke about her experience in the workforce as a woman. She is a senior advisor to SSA & Company and previously was global president of e-Business at Proctor & Gamble, and she has been listed in Fortune magazine’s U.S. and international rankings of the 50 Most Powerful Women in Business for seven consecutive years.
Henretta offered tips on how to succeed, including, “Be careful of doing it all versus doing it well” and “following the crowd versus blazing the trail.” She said she considers a woman’s greatest strength to be her passion. She emphasized, “Use your passion to drive progress.”
Henretta said to Miller, “You have clearly used your passions to create positive contributions; you’ve used it to realize great potential, and you’ve used it to make progress in everything and every organization you’ve touched.”
Upon accepting her award, Miller said, “I’ll start with a story because that’s so much what I’m about.”
She began describing how, while waiting for omelets in Hickey Dining Hall one morning, her friend asked her what she wanted to do with her life.
“I immediately said ‘I want to inspire. I want to inspire people.’ And she said ‘No, no, no, not like that, not your long lofty monologues you give us all the time. But what do you want to do? How do you not want to starve for the rest of your life?’ ”
Miller said she thought over this for a while.
“I said in my head, ‘Well, I don’t know. I could be the CEO of Vogue. Eh, maybe not. I’ll get bored of that soon. [Then I thought] I could be a director; I can be a writer; I can be a screenwriter. I can do all these things, because they are what make me happy,’” she said. “And I always promised myself I would never do anything that didn’t make me happy.”
Miller said she then battled with figuring out how exactly she wanted to inspire others.
“I do everything selfishly. I do everything to fuel myself and to give creation into the world and I leave it out there and let people see it,” she said. “I didn’t know. So I invite you all to think about your journeys. Not as singular events but as catalysts of inspiration for one another.”
Miller said she wouldn’t trade her four years at Bonaventure for even lounging on a beach in southern France. She accepted the award on behalf of her friends, professors, teachers and mentors who led her to becoming who she is today.
“What you’ve done for me -- you’ve annoyed me, you’ve challenged me and just pushed me to give a sort of greatness that is worthy of the world,” she said. “The work you do unknowingly often reshapes and reinvents how I see the world, how I live my life, how I live my full truth….You shake us. You are picking at and slashing at and carving out the artists and philanthropists and innovators and creators of tomorrow, and I am so happy to be one of them.”
Speaking of her work in theater, Miller acknowledged she is grateful for the people who take in what she creates.
“What I’ve done on campus means absolutely nothing without people to enjoy it,” she said. “Who would we perform for if no one was in the audience? Who would be appreciative if no one was in the audience, if no one was watching us?...Who would be inspired if there was no one on the other side of this podium?”
Miller said that she tries to inspire others “through smiles and laughter and pushing them the way they do for me.” She discussed how the impact of a moment doesn’t die after the moment has passed. She said we must be like the ripples that a leaf produces when it falls on water in the way that we influence others.
“We are the ripples,” she said. “Let us continue inspiring one another, and I will carry this Woman of Promise Award with me until my last dying breath…I’ll try to keep myself from starving and live out my passions for the rest of my life.”
She concluded by encouraging the audience to make a promise.
“You must never let the waters remain stagnant. Be those ripples. Live out those truths. And come with me on this journey we call life. Because it’s not over yet.”
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The Woman of Promise Award was established in honor of Dr. Mary A. Hamilton, professor emeritus and former chair of the journalism and mass communication department at St. Bonaventure. The 1959 alumna worked as a reporter and editor, worked on a public relations program for the Center of Constitutional Rights, and published a biography in 2007, which won the American Journalism Historians Award for Best Book in Media History.
The award is given to a senior female at Bonaventure who shows potential in and out of the classroom, sets a positive example and is considered by the faculty to demonstrate traits that will make her thrive post-graduation.