Scripps Honors Alumna Gabby Giffords

Former U.S. Congresswoman Gabrielle “Gabby” Giffords SC ’93 received the Ellen Browning Scripps Medal on Sept. 21 at Bridges Auditorium. Giffords is the third recipient of the medal and the first Scripps College alumna to receive the honor.

The medal, which is named after the Scripps founder, is awarded to women who have made significant contributions to improving the lives and opportunities of women. It was presented to former First Lady and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 1994 and former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor in 1998.

“Gabby Giffords embodies all Scripps College dreams for our graduates to be: bold, courageous, and making a difference in the world,” Scripps President Lori Bettison-Varga wrote in an e-mail to TSL. “She has worked to create opportunities for women, to better society, and to be true to her values, even in the face of tremendous adversity. She brings a deep and meaningful record filled with mentorship, leadership, and public service—because that’s what she is called to do.”

Giffords served in the Arizona State Senate from 2000 to 2005, and was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2006. She resigned in early 2012 after being shot in the head at a mass shooting in Tucson, Ariz.

At Scripps, Giffords studied Latin American history and sociology. After graduation, she was awarded a Fulbright scholarship to Chihuahua, Mexico, where she researched the commitment to nonviolence in a Mexican Mennonite community before earning her master’s degree in regional planning at Cornell University. She returned to Scripps in 2009 to deliver the commencement address.

Scripps College Board of Trustees Chair Linda Davis Taylor opened the award ceremony, saying that the medal represents an honor to Ellen Browning Scripps, who “inspired and fostered independent thinking.”

Giffords was unanimously chosen by the Ellen Browning Scripps Medal Selection Committee. The committee, which is composed of students, alumni, trustees, and professors, was formed with Giffords already in mind, according to student representative Rachel Grate SC ’15.

“We were really excited about choosing an alumna,” Grate said. “Gabby Giffords is the sweetheart of Scripps … All students look up to her and she’s a pretty well-known figure here.”     

Bettison-Varga introduced Giffords at the medal presentation. She read excerpts of letters to Scripps from alumni, who wrote about how Giffords has been an inspiration to the college community. Bettison-Varga also expressed her admiration.

“Gabby, you have inspired me each time that we have shared a visit and each time that I have read another remarkable victory as you redesign your destiny,” Bettison-Varga said before the audience. “I hope that this day shows you at least a glimmer of the impact of your inspiration on the Scripps community and the nation.”

After Bettison-Varga’s introduction, Carolyn Revelle, a Scripps trustee and great-grandniece of Ellen Browning Scripps, formally presented the medal to Giffords. 

Giffords’s husband, Mark Kelly, then took the stage to introduce his wife. Kelly is a retired U.S. Navy captain and NASA Space Shuttle Commander who also co-authored Gabby: A Story of Courage and Hope with Giffords in 2011. Kelly spoke affectionately about his wife and the influence of her time at Scripps.

“At Scripps she learned to follow her heart, to listen, and to stand up for what is right,” Kelly said before the audience. “Gabby also embraced the Scripps ethos that each of you know well, and that’s to support women around her and see the value of the contribution that they have in society. She has never stopped championing other women.”

In 2013, Giffords and Kelly founded Americans for Responsible Solutions, an organization that advocates responsible gun ownership.

“We represent a huge majority of Americans who believe in commonsense solutions like background checks that will keep us safer while protecting the rights of responsible people who own guns,” he said.

After his remarks, Kelly assisted Giffords to the podium, where she delivered a brief acceptance speech.

“Thank you for inviting me here today, and thank you for this honor,” she said. “It’s been a long, hard haul but I’m getting better. My spirit is as strong as ever; I’m still fighting to make the world a better place. Be passionate, courageous … be your best.”

Scripps Associated Students (SAS) President Marta Bean SC ’14 also spoke at the presentation on behalf of the Scripps student body.

“Your work motivates us to live as confidently, courageously, and hopefully as we possibly can,” she said before the audience. “You make us all proud to be Scripps women.”

Bean, along with other SAS leaders, also hosted a letter-writing campaign to thank Giffords. Before the presentation, Giffords received the letters and Kelly read them to her, Bean said.

“Gabby Giffords is a walking inspiration for people to not give up,” Bean said in an interview with TSL. “The amount of things she has done despite her accident are inspiring and incredible. For Scripps to see an alumna that has that much influence in public policy and a woman in politics … it inspires students to follow in her footsteps.”

Before the medal presentation, a brunch in Giffords’s honor was hosted in the backyard of Bettison-Varga’s house. According to Bean, 290 students, alumni, faculty, staff, board members, and guests were invited to the celebration. Giffords went from table to table and spoke with Scripps community members, Bean said.

The Scripps community does not foresee another recipient of the medal in the near future, Grate said.

“It was a choice that we wanted to bring the award back since it had been so long since we had given it out, but it’s not the sort of award we want to have to give out every year,” Grate said.

Bettison-Varga expressed her enthusiasm for the committee’s choice of an alumna, and for the future of the award.

“We are so proud that Gabby is an alumna,” Bettison-Varga wrote in an e-mail to TSL. “She joins two other pioneering women: Hillary Clinton and Sandra Day O’Connor. As a trio, they are precedent-setting.”

Scripps currently funds an internship in Giffords’s honor called the Gabrielle Giffords ’93 Internship in Public Service, which has benefited three students. The internship supports students interested in public service, activism, and social justice issues. According to Davis Taylor, Chair of the Scripps College Board of Trustees, Scripps will increase the internship fund in recognition of Giffords receiving the award. 

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