MARION – Lilly Ledbetter, author and civil rights activist, delivered the address at Judson’s 176th graduation ceremony, which was held in Judson’s Alumnae Auditorium on Saturday, June 28. Commencement exercises have been held in Alumnae Auditorium since 1904.

The auditorium, which can accommodate 900 people, was filled with students, their families and friends, as well as Judson College faculty, staff and guests.

Ledbetter shared her experiences about her struggles and on-going quest to assure that all people in America receive a fair wage. 

Her concluding message to the graduates was simple yet profound: “There will be times in your lives when you will have to make difficult decisions. They can be life-changing opportunities. Don’t be afraid to do what is right.” Upon concluding her speech, Ledbetter received a standing ovation.

Ledbetter grew up in Possum Trot, and took her dream job at Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company, becoming one of the first women employed for a management position. Nineteen years later, she received an anonymous note alerting her to the fact that she was making thousands of dollars less per year than men who held the same position.

Ledbetter retired from Goodyear in 1998 and filed a successful discrimination case against her former employer, but the verdict was overturned on appeal. Eight years later, the case was heard by the Supreme Court, which supported the overturning of the original verdict.

After the Supreme Court ruling, Ledbetter continued to advocate for policies that would eliminate pay discrimination. Her efforts helped pave the way for the legislation that would become the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, the first piece of legislation signed into law by President Barack Obama on January 29, 2009.

The Ledbetter Act allows people who have experienced pay discrimination to file suit within 180 days from the date of their last discriminatory paycheck, giving employees a fair and reasonable opportunity to file paycheck discrimination claims.                                                                                               

Today, Ledbetter continues to be an advocate for the fair treatment of all people.  In 2012, Ledbetter published Grace and Grit: My Fight for Equal Pay and Fairness at Goodyear and Beyond, a book chronicling her life and advocacy for equal pay practices and policies. While she won’t receive restitution from Goodyear, Ledbetter takes pride in the fact that her efforts have helped create better policies for others. “I’ll be happy if the last thing they say about me after I die is that I made a difference,” she said.

“We are delighted that Mrs. Ledbetter addressed the Class of 2014 at Commencement during the 175th anniversary celebration of the College. Her remarks should certainly inspire our graduates, and her deeds have helped to assure fairer treatment for them in the workplace,” said President Potts.