Young Feminist Club Hosts Motivational Speaker

By Leila Wickliffe

    Ponte Vedra High School’s Young Feminist Club hosted its biggest event of the year. On February 10, the club invited Donna Orender to speak to the club after school. Orender spoke about sports, business, and women’s empowerment. Members of the club joined, as well as members of the softball, girls’ weightlifting, and wrestling teams attended. 

    Donna Orender is one of Newsweeks100 most influential people in the business of sports. In 2005, she was appointed the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) president for six years, and she significantly increased growth in all business metrics. She worked to revitalize the brand of the WNBA, which led to growth in sponsorship and viewership. Before working as the president of the WBNA, Orender worked with the PGA Tour for 17 years, where she oversaw global television and production businesses and built a globally recognized business for the Tour. She was the original producer of Inside the PGA Tour, a highlights show. Later, she became the senior vice president of strategic development in the Office of the Commissioner of the Tour.

    Before entering the world of business and sports, Orender has loved sports since high school. She was a five-sport athlete, playing field hockey, softball, volleyball, tennis, and basketball. Orender added that her high school did not have a girls’ tennis team. She asked the coach if she could try out for the boys’ team. Ultimately, her tryout was successful. She was the first girl to play tennis for her high school. However, she received very little attention for this accomplishment. 

“I don’t know if I ever thought about female empowerment when I was an athlete, even though I was always the only [female].”

Donna Orender

    After high school, she went to Queens College and played basketball at Madison Square Garden. They played Helen Reddy’s song “I Am Woman,” and she said she’d always remember that moment. Orender went on to play in the Women’s Pro Basketball League for all three seasons until the league disbanded in 1981.

    After she left the WNBA, she founded Generation W, a non-profit organization to educate, inspire, and connect women through national events. “I don’t know if I ever thought about female empowerment when I was an athlete, even though I was always the only [female],” she noted. Even though women’s empowerment wasn’t always her goal, she knew she wanted to create a “sustainable environment for strong women.” Generation W subsequently became one of her proudest accomplishments. She published a book called WOWsdom! The Girl’s Gide to the Positive and the Possible. Generation W also has a mentorship program for high school girls called Generation WOW. Hope Freedman, a senior at PVHS, currently runs the local chapter and organized donations and fundraisers to have period products put in girls’ bathrooms across the county. 

    Orender now travels the country as a motivational speaker. She hopes that all women can find the courage within themselves to stand up for what they believe in. “You have to be an advocate for yourself,” she noted. She advocated for kindness and collaboration and explained that kindness is the “most unifying act,” and it can spread from oneself to their peers. She asked the crowd: “how many of you think you can change the world?” She is aware that it seems like a feat, but she claimed that anything from a smile to a compliment can change the world. “Empathy and collaboration are needed in this world,” she added. 

    During the meeting, Orender spoke candidly to the group of girls who attended. She left the floor open to questions and held her presentation in an open discussion format. She answered questions about herself and provided advice for those who sought it. She encouraged the girls’ softball team to advertise their games and push for announcements when they win after some members of the team voiced their disappointment that their team didn’t get as much recognition compared to the school’s baseball team. “You have a right to be where you are and who you are. You’re the only one who can do you best,” she told the crowd.

    Orender listened to everyone’s comments and questions and answered them sincerely. She talked about how she has relied on sports her entire life, and how she has carried the lessons that she learned from sports into all aspects of her life. Orender encouraged the group to remember a moment where they succeeded and aim to replicate it in everything they do. However, she did mention that if success isn’t immediate, “Learn from it, and move on.”

    The group left feeling empowered and motivated. A handful of students stayed behind to speak with Orender a bit more after the discussion officially closed. She was pleased to continue chatting about courage, kindness, collaboration, and sticking together. “There is strength in numbers. Support each other. Find a way to stick together, and be a voice that cannot be drowned out.” She left the final group with a closing piece of advice, “Have the courage of your convictions. If you believe in something, do something about it.” There is no doubt that Orender left a lasting impact on the group that came and watched her speak. Her life experiences and her advice garnered awed and respect. Many students participated and connected in the conversation with her. Students were pleased when she said she would consider returning to PVHS in coordination with The Young Feminist Club again. 


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