Scripps College alumnae, faculty, students and staff gathered at Malott Commons on Tuesday, Nov. 15, to celebrate the release of Congresswoman Gabrielle “Gabby” Giffords SC ’93 and her husband Mark Kelly’s memoir, Gabby: A Story of Courage and Hope. Giffords, who graduated from Scripps in 1993, has spent the last ten months recovering from a bullet wound to the left hemisphere of her brain that resulted from an assassination attempt on Jan. 8.
A dual major in Latin American Studies and Sociology at Scripps, Giffords received a Fulbright Scholarship upon graduation that she used to travel to Chihuahua, Mexico, where she studied the Old Colony Mennonites, a socioreligious group originating in Canada. The event on Tuesday featured Scripps College President Lori Bettison-Varga and several alumni speakers, a raffle contest for copies of the memoir, and a table with Scripps College notepads on which community members could write letters to Giffords.
“We are so proud that she is a Scripps woman,” Bettison-Varga said at the ceremony. “There is much more for her to accomplish, and we are with her all the way.” Scripps alumnae Kelly Hewitt SC ’08, Claire Bridge SC ’82, and Janel Henriksen Hastings SC ’91 also spoke at the event.
On the morning of Jan. 8, Giffords was meeting constituents from Arizona’s 8th congressional district, which she represents, in front of a Safeway grocery store in Tucson, Arizona, when a young man opened gunfire. The shooter, 23-year-old Jared Loughner, killed six people and wounded 14 others, including Giffords. Giffords was rushed to the Intensive Care Unit of the University Medical Center in Tucson, Arizona, where she underwent extensive surgery. Loughner was later indicted on 49 counts of murder and attempted murder by federal grand juries.
“I think that all of us are just amazed by the pace of [Giffords’] recovery in the last ten months,” Bettison-Varga told The Student Life after the ceremony. “She wants to get stronger. She wants to be back in the House of Representatives, but she’s the only one who will know if that’s the right thing for her.”
On Monday, Nov. 14, Giffords had recovered enough to appear with Kelly, an astronaut and Navy veteran, on ABC’s show 20/20 for an interview with Diane Sawyer. Hastings pointed out during her speech at the ceremony that at one point during the show, Giffords can be seen wearing a dark green Scripps College sweatshirt.
Though Giffords has recovered immensely since the shooting, and even made an appearance at the House of Representatives in Washington in August, she is still relearning her speech and motor skills. In the interview with Sawyer, Giffords spoke mostly in fragments. Still, according to a letter from Kelly read by Bettison-Varga at Tuesday’s event, “[Gabby] is committed to getting better so that she can return to the job she loves to do—representing the American people in the U.S. House of Representatives.”
The title of Giffords and Kelly’s memoir was inspired by the words of Ellen Browning Scripps, a philanthropist and namesake of Scripps College, who believed it was important for students to be able to “live confidently, courageously, and hopefully.” The book contains photos of Giffords from her Scripps yearbook, as well as revelations, according to ABC news, that Giffords was undergoing fertility treatments when she was shot, along with other details of her life. The book chronicles Giffords’s recovery, including her realization of what happened to her and her struggle to regain speech and cognition. While most of the book is written from Kelly’s perspective, the last chapter, “Gabby’s Voice,” is told from the perspective of Giffords. “I will get stronger. I will return,” she writes, alluding to her goal of returning to Congress. Yet with most of her focus right now on recovery, it remains unclear if Giffords will seek reelection next year.
In 2009, Giffords gave the commencement address at Scripps, which was reprinted in a media packet distributed at the Tuesday event.
“Many things have changed for me since I received my Scripps diploma, but what Scripps taught me about my life and how to live it remains today,” Giffords said in the address. “[If Ellen Browning Scripps were here today,] she would expect and want that most elusive thing for you: to be happy, to find contentment in this life that we have that is far too fleeting.”
Elisabeth Pfeiffer contributed reporting to this article.