Women of Watermark: Viola Davis, Sheryl Sandberg, Condoleeza Rice address students at annual Watermark Conference Silicon Valley


Sahana Srinivasan

Facebook CEO Sheryl Sandberg spoke at the Watermark Conference Silicon Valley. Watermark sponsored 17 Harker students to attend the conference.

by Gloria Zhang, Reporter

Watermark sponsored 17 students and three teachers to discover more about women’s successes at the annual Watermark Conference Silicon Valley Conference, as part of the Young Women’s program. The conference took place at the San Jose Convention Center on Feb. 1 from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. and was organized by CareerConnect.

Watermark is a society of women leaders in the Bay Area. Created in 1993, the community impels women to seek out executive and leadership positions with their educational programs.

The students who attended the conference were Sneha Bhetanabhotla (12), Zahra Budhwani (12), Riya Chandra (12), May Gao (12), Alexis Gauba (12), Neymika Jain (12), Preethi Kandappan (12), Judy Pan (12), Evani Radiya-Dixit (12), Aliesa Bahri (11), Aria Coalson (11), Amy Jin (11), Maya Kumar (11), Isabella Spradlin (11), Sahana Srinivasan (11), Enya Lu (10), Reiya Das (9) and Roma Gandhi (9).

The students attended several break-out sessions, a morning and lunch keynote and three Young Women’s Program breakout sessions. The morning keynotes were presented by New York Times bestselling author Shawn Achor, with a Ted Talk about happiness; Annie Clark, co-founder of End Rape On Campus, and Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer. Former secretaries of state Condoleezza Rice and Madeleine Albright and Viola Davis, award-winning actresses, hosted the lunch session.

The first two sessions of the Young Women’s Program introduced topics about ending sexual violence and following a path of success. There were many different topics available for the third sessions.

“There were tools for [our students] as women, but also tools on how to educate and re-educate both men and women, especially at a younger age.” business and entrepreneur teacher Michael Acheatel said. “The breakout sessions for the Young Women’s program were about a couple different women who have gotten a lot of notoriety, specifically in the blogging field, and how they got to their positions today and the lessons they learned; for example, being successful in negotiating your salaries.”

For the third workshop, Zahra attended a session about women empowerment presented by Grace Killelea, CEO of GKC group. Killelea advocated about confidence in women.

“[Grace] talked about what she did in her life, her life story, and what she did to get to the point of where she was. She basically said, ‘Speak Up! Suit Up! Show up!’” Zahra said. “She talked about tangible ways that you can do things. She said that if somebody interrupted you, and if you feel like being constantly interrupted as a woman, this is exactly what you should do: you should talk to them, you should take their name and say, ‘James, stop interrupting me!’”

Freshman DECA member Roma was motivated by the women speakers, especially Viola Davis and her optimistic beliefs of reaching one’s goals.

“Just looking around and seeing so many women, around 6000, gathered in one conference and interested in being knowledgeable about business and advancing in your career is very inspirational. It pushed me to go further, and Viola Davis showed that no matter where you come from, you can always reach your goal,” Roma said.

There were 44 exhibitors this year, including exhibits from Dell, United Airlines, Yahoo!, BMW and NBC Bay Area. Exhibitors were provided the opportunity to meet with a diverse audience and to further promote their businesses.

One of the speakers, Viola Davis, unfolded a story of her life challenges. Her story touched on the issues of racism in the society of her parents who grew up in the Jim Crow world in the South. Years later, Davis, facing racism herself, was unsure of her own potential. She mentioned the topics of self-confidence and owning one’s life story.

“I know what it means to be sixteen. You feel like, who am I? Gawky? Or overly confident? Not really. What the caterpillar calls the end of the world, the master calls it the butterfly,” Davis said. “And as soon as you think your life is ending, like your hair should be longer, you should be skinnier, you should have more weight and more boyfriends, you should have gotten that great car, and that you should have your favorite job, that you are enough.”

This piece was originally published in the pages of The Winged Post on February 21, 2017.