“I’m never going to stand in front of anyone and profess to be wonder woman; I’m not,” Lisa Nutter, president of Philadelphia Academies, Inc. and wife of Michael Nutter, the mayor of Philadelphia, said as she introduced herself at the 2008 Ivy Young Willis Lecture and Award Ceremony. The students she works with in Philadelphia public schools may say that’s an understatement.
Nutter’s whole career revolves around those students and their futures. Philadelphia Academies, Inc. is a non-profit organization that assists high school students in discovering the various opportunities that exist beyond 12th grade.
The Cabrini College community welcomed her on Thursday, April 3 to accept the Ivy Young Willis Award, an award that has been given at Cabrini each year since 1992. This award was created by William G. Willis in honor of his late wife. The award signifies a woman who is heavily devoted to public affairs as his wife was. His intentions were to show women students other women they could admire, respect and hopefully follow in their footsteps.
“This is a very real woman,” President Iadorolla said. She explained Nutter’s work as “not just educating the mind of the person, although that is very important, but also concerned about the moral development of that individual.”
The mansion was packed with Cabrini students, faculty, staff, as well as outsiders, as Nutter spoke in a sincere and confident voice of the difficulties that students in Philadelphia public schools face.
Nutter’s efforts in Philadelphia are to provide students with people who will be role models for them and encourage them to do something with their lives, while others often tell them they can’t. “Kids are on a journey. We are the tour guides; we’re trying to give them the right direction along the way,” Nutter said.
Raised by parents who valued education; sickened by the conditions she witnessed as a community organizer in Philadelphia; those are two experiences in Nutter’s life that led her to receive a master’s degree in city planning and start making a difference. “We have to respond to the call of these young people as a community,” she said.
Throughout her lecture, she emphasized the importance of relationships; especially those in young peoples’ lives. While supporting the need for gaining knowledge, she also tries to teach students that life is often measured by who you know, which is why building a social network is key.
Nutter also focuses on the reformation of the public school system. She wants to ensure that schools are teaching certain skills needed for life after high school, whether that is post-secondary education or a career. She believes that the same skills are needed for both of those paths.
Both President Iadorolla and Dr. Hedtke congratulated Nutter on “doing something extraordinary.”
Each year there is a committee that makes suggestions of who should receive the award. Among the committee were Cabrini’s Dr. James Hedtke, chair of history and political science, and Dr. Daryl Mace, assistant professor of history and political science. Ultimately, the members of the Willis family decide the recipient.
Past recipients included Violetta Barrios de Chamorro, former president of Nicaragua, in 1993, and Carolyn Jefferson-Jenkins, president of the League of Women Voters of the United States.