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Ram: Governor Kunin's Gift

Michael Tallman
Kesha Ram thanked Madeleine Kunin for her service at the Emerge Gala, 2016.

Governor Madeleine Kunin has given us all a present. Her new book, Coming of Age: My Journey to the Eighties, is a heartfelt and honest look at the process of aging and she writes it with courage, and grace.

The bravery of this effort is immediately evident on the front cover, where her portrait is a closely focused photograph that reveals both age and character in a web of wrinkles, earned in a lifetime of bold leadership. In a society that’s usually so filled with airbrushed, youthful, filtered images, I find it refreshing. Her gaze is typically direct, and in it, I see her familiar compassion for those without power and unapologetic challenge toward those with too much.

In a recent conversation with a former cabinet member of Governor Kunin’s, whom I also greatly admire, I was struck when she told me that the Governor’s appointment had “really pulled me out of mediocrity, and made me a leader.”

I was deeply moved by the truth and poignance of that statement. So many women are capable of extraordinary things when leaders like Governor Kunin give them the courage to stare down their doubt and fear, and think differently about their capabilities.

When asked about her own legacy, the Governor likes to highlight the appointments she made of remarkable women who continue to lead and her ongoing efforts to encourage women to run and serve. She considers these to be some of her greatest achievements. And this is in addition to programs she championed as Governor that have changed lives and landscapes, like Dr. Dynasaur and the Vermont Housing and Conservation Fund.

I would add that, while achieving great things that have touched so many lives, she’s also been willing to sharing deep, thoughtful, relatable reflections with the rest of us - so we can stare down our own doubts and fears, and prepare to meet the challenges that we are called upon to face.

In her memoir, Governor Kunin has given us a generous helping of her vulnerability, authenticity, and humanity. In return, we can give her our promise to follow the path she has worked so hard to show us.

Kesha Ram is a former state legislator and the interim director of the Center for Whole Communities in Burlington. She will study in the Master of Public Administration program at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government this fall.
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