"You don't have to fill anyone's shoes but your own." -Maria Shriver
In a day of overwhelming inspiration, more than 85 world opinion leaders, along with a sold-out crowd of more than 14,000 attendees from all over the world gathered this week in Long Beach, Calif., for the annual California Women's Conference. Hosted by California First Lady Maria Shriver and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, the nation's premiere forum for women featured some of the world's most influential individuals as they engaged in conversations and shared their personal stories in an effort to inspire women to transform themselves and their communities.
"I firmly believe that you don't have to be a first lady or an elected official to change the world" said Shriver in an interview leading up to the event. "The goal of this conference is to make you feel strong, and empowered, and inspired to go out and be an architect of change."
One of the most notable moments from the event came when First Lady Michelle Obama took the stage to a roaring standing ovation and shared with the crowd her mission of supporting military families and her commitment to lending her voice for the challenges they face. "We have to talk about this.Their needs, and their concerns, should be on the agenda of every woman and every American, because they represent the very best this country has to offer," said Obama. "And it's time that each of us did our part to give them the support they need, the recognition they deserve, and the gratitude they've earned."
Diane Sawyer moderated a discussion with former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor and Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg who spoke of their challenges and breakthroughs as women and Supreme Court justices. Justice Ginsburg garnered one of the biggest laughs of the day when Sawyer asked how many woman holding positions on the Supreme Court was enough, to which Ginsburg replied "nine."
Former First Lady Laura Bush offered some updates on the Bush Family and what life is like post White House. She had the crowd laughing when she poked some fun at herself: "As for me, it's come to this," Mrs. Bush said of her life after eight years in the White House. "This is the Laura Bush bobble head doll. I got this from a friend of mine who found it in the gift shop in the constitutional center a few weeks after the election. It was on the clearance shelf. He said he couldn't resist sending it to me, I told him he could have tried a little harder. But I'm kinda glad to have it." She then explained with a smirk, "When you live in the White House and are a bobble head inside a bubble, reality can get a little warped. Sometimes you have to work hard just to recognize yourself."
The Women's Conference was not without influential men. Brian Williams reminded us that he is really good at his job when he moderated a session with Nike Inc. Co-Founder and Chairman Phil Knight, New York Times Columnist Nick Kristof, and Starbucks President and CEO Howard Schultz. The trio answered questions from Williams about the influence of their mothers and the importance for work-life balance for men.
In a failed effort to bridge a political gap, Arnold Schwarzenegger joined Matt Lauer in an unprecedented first and only talk between the current governor and California gubernatorial candidates Meg Whitman and Jerry Brown. Lauer drew the largest reaction of cheers from the crowd when he pressed the candidates to "pull all negative (television) ads and replace them with positive ads" in the remaining days of the race. Brown pledged to comply, while Whitman couldn't seem to come to any sort of conclusion about the proposed pact.
Perhaps the most moving moment came when Shriver took the stage and shared stories about her personal journey. She was honest and spoke from the heart when she reminded us that we don't have to have it all figured out. Many members of the audience were moved to tears when she talked about her struggle with the death of her mother Eunice Kennedy Shriver and her commitment to finding a cure for Alzheimers, a disease her father currently battles.
With Governor Schwarzenegger's term ending in January, this will mark Shriver's final time hosting the event that she has helped propel to be the world's largest conference for women. The conference has been run by the governor and the first lady of California since it was established in1985. As for what she will do when his term ends, Shriver shared that she is going to allow herself to be okay with not knowing and said for the first time in her life she is going to give herself permission to just "let go."