Founders Day Remarks from Tracy Lolita Burks Healy ’87
Thank you, Dr. Fox and the Mary Baldwin Community for having me here today.
It’s 1983. I am an eager but nervous 18-year old girl in my first English class at Mary Baldwin. The sun is shining. There is a light, warm breeze with a few leaves floating past the classroom window. It’s a gorgeous Mary Baldwin-Virginia day.
The class begins easily enough, just friendly ‘Hellos’ and ‘Where are you from?” Then, the professor, serious to get started, looks around the room and says, “Now tell me your middle names … “
I almost fell through the floor. All of my life, I had been teased about my middle name! How embarrassing, I thought. I felt myself blush beet red.
My turn comes.
‘It’s Lolita,” I said.
There was silence, maybe a giggle. The professor looked at me (of course I was still blushing) and said, “My dear, you should never be ashamed of that name. It is one of the most beautiful and timeless books of literature of the 20th Century,” she said. “You should be very proud.”
I thought to myself, “Maybe I’ll use my middle name for something one day.”
That was one of the defining moments in my life.
This was not an unusual experience of mine as a “Mary Baldwin Girl.” There were rewards, challenges, successes and fond memories created by every moment of my four years on this campus.
I am extremely honored to be here today. I never pictured myself, Tracy Lolita Burks, Class of 1987, standing here talking to the senior class at my alma mater. Yet, here I stand because my dreams are coming true. I am standing here to tell you today that your dreams can come true, too, if you seize your passion, rule it, and live it.
I can see that the founder of this College, Mary Julia Baldwin, is in this audience. She would be very proud of the fact that every year since she founded this school, many bright, beautiful and ambitious young women leave these halls to embark on their independent lives with every chance, every dream and every opportunity for a successful life ahead of them.
Ladies, your moment is here. And so am I, and I am very happy to be here.
I think Mary Julia Baldwin would be proud.
It is my belief that an organization should always reflect its founder, just as this college reflects Mary Julia Baldwin. I look around this church and see it in every face! The values, culture, and dreams of the person that started the organization should be visible in every employee, every service, and every product. You are the products, as I am the product, of Mary Julia’s ambitions (of course, we are the products of our parents, our experiences, our life as well). But, let’s be honest, college has a huge impact on a young person, especially a young woman, and this school rocks! I think Julia would be amazed at how far her dream has come.
I am a founder of an organization too, and I am sometimes dumbfounded at what I’ve achieved, but I feel like I am just getting started, as you are!! So move over, Martha.
I started my business with just an idea. I was a stay-at-home mom at the time, after almost 10 years of work experience, plus I painted wall murals while toting my beautiful baby girls everywhere. Those days were hard. But I always had a dream — to have my own product line. It was on the top of my mind every time I went shopping. I just knew I had it in me.
One night, on a “Girls’ Night Out,” I was handed a Cosmopolitan. All of a sudden, I had a product line in my head and I believed — a winner. The rest is history! I was selling my hand painted glasses to friends; noticing how much everyone loved them; picking up on the collectibility; going national to the gift trade; then, licensing my designs.
Much of my success, I believe was set in the groundwork I laid down before things really took off. Late nights; burnt glasses in the oven; sore fingers from painting until I was unable to go further; many tears of frustration &mellip; and all without a dime of investment from anyone except from my own hard work. A good business model that even the most respected of my business peers looked down upon, because they thought by licensing “I was selling out.” It was just the opposite: I knew I was moving up because I knew I would be bigger than a small-time artist. I offended people. So be it. I believed in myself even when sometimes other people didn’t.
I have had a lot of help and currently have a very talented team who reflect my vision in everything they do. This is very important to me now.
Looking back, I didn’t let the negatives or the naysayers, get me down! My creative juices have always been my saving grace, and this brand, this crazy idea that I had to build a business and a brand from my name and a martini glass collection, seems to still have endless potential.
And, I’ve used knowledge that I learned from both experience and here at Mary Baldwin. It was important that I understand my consumer, that each and every design was “Just for Her.” I still know that each design I create is as unique as the person buying it. That philosophy has worked. Understand who your customer is, and who he or she isn’t. No matter what you do! And customers come in many forms.
Humor and whimsy are reflected in each of my designs, all or my products suit a personality. I know my fans. They are my friends. And from my work, well, they know me too.
As a marketer, I realize that if I lose sight of design and the things that set me apart in the marketplace, I would stagnate. I learned early to always know what my point of difference in the marketplace was in comparison to other designers. What is the difference? My brand, my designs are just plain fun. Also, I learned that branding to the American consumer was everything — bad branding could be the kiss of death to a business. It turns out it is not so different in the rest of the world. People need to identify with the objects in their lives. I’m a “brand girl,” too. I am sure many of you ladies can relate!
I also learned that licensing was my preferred business model, rather than manufacturing. And, that the 4 P’s of marketing are just as important now than in Mr. Blakely’s Marketing 101 Class back in 1984. William Blakely’s inspiration is still with me today; his untimely death at such a young age still saddens me. I think, I know, he would be proud of me.
Ladies, this is your moment!! As seniors, I implore you to savor each and every moment for the rest of your lives. Not only is “What is your moment?” the popular tagline of my brand, it is here, it is now. It is built on promises of tomorrow.
Every moment, added up, creates memories of a life well lived.
Look around you, next to you. Faces you see, friends, family, significant others, clergy, administrators and your teachers. They will all reappear in your memories, if not in your present, with images of good times, love, regrets, sorrows (Mr. Blakely) and passions. These people that helped you define your moments from girlhood to womanhood. Toast them always. But who will be there? I can attest, only a handful will remain in your life for very long.
It is up to each and every one of you to create your own destinies. Depend on no one. Only you can direct your life and where you end up and who you will become.
No matter how you feel, or mistakes that you will make, whether wronged, righted, sidetracked, stifled, remember this: You are in control of yourself, your life and your destiny. Your moments, even your feelings — they are all yours to choose.
And, you many ask, how do I stay in control and create my destiny? The answer is simple.
The answer is PASSION. An intense, compelling feeling, enthusiasm, or desire for something.
Each of us is born with God given gifts and talents. Unfortunately, we are not superhuman — none of us can avoid all the trappings of being human, to just live a passionate, plentiful, spirit-filled perfect life.
Love. Marriage. Childbirth. Joy. Sickness. Death. Grief. Sorrow. Financial problems. Stress. Most of you will experience all of these human conditions.
But there is one thing that is innate to our humanness, in our very soul that no one can take away from us. This is talent. Every one of you has it. And most people find true passion from something they are naturally good at.
To find your passion, you must know what your talents are. Your passion is not just “finding your best self” or the newest self-help article. Your passion may not necessarily be defined as one simple thing. But I guarantee you, it is based intrinsically in your being. It is what you were put on this earth to do.
Over your lifetime you will not be happy unless you are living your passion. I promise you that. If you know anyone that seems to be genuinely unhappy, angry and negative … chances are they are not living a passionate life. They are not using their true gifts and talents.
I was lucky to have found my passion early on.
Art, throughout my life, has always kept me grounded. It is an innate thing that most artists understand. I think I have developed other qualities that have helped me in my business. DEVELOPED is the key word here.
Some would call me ambitious; A Big Picture Person; A Creative Marketer, A woman who knows how to turn an idea into a dollar. Well, that all may be true, but many of these are skills that my creativity has helped me to excel in. There are many skills that I wish I had. I don’t profess to be an expert at accounting or legal mumbo-jumbo, but all of that was essential to grasp to do what I do, and do it well.
You have to walk before you can run. For instance, if you want to be a fashion designer, you have to learn how to sew. If you want to have a cupcake shop, you have to learn the in’s and out’s of owning and working a retail business. Making cupcakes is the fun part. Know the realities of your passion and be prepared!
I decided that I wanted to be a designer when I was in my early twenties. I knew that would be my passion. I could feel it. I was very ambitious and hardworking and smart enough to know that I just couldn’t start out as a “designer.” My parents told me in college that I needed to take some business classes … wise advice to an artist.
I knew I had to get some sales and product development experience. That led me to jobs where I learned inside and out: sales management, marketing, advertising, product development and strategic planning.
My artistic self was always there. I used my creative talents in every job, every project, every deadline, every returned phone call, and every single report to my superiors. I worked hard, made tons of mistakes but had a lot of success stories. I never gave up. I was working with the end result in mind, even if I knew a job wasn’t for me.
And you should, too … but always be working on achieving your passion or you will stagnate. I have seen it happen to people over and over again.
Passions run the gamut. Perhaps your passion is the guy you are dating right now Maybe it’s the next social; the next Apple Day. Ladies, look deeper. This too shall pass.
Your talents are always with you. Maybe, you are great in biology and love helping people. Your passion could be medicine. Maybe you love to knit. You could be the next Missoni. Maybe you love to read romance novels. You could be the next Danielle Steele. Maybe you love kids and sports. Teaching may be in you. Sometimes, what we love the most is where our talents lie. Think about what you love to do and your passion is probably there. And, if you think about it, something as benign as “I’m a good organizer and I love doing it” could have multi-million dollar benefits.
My days after Mary Baldwin were hard. I won’t lie. Your twenties will be a time of self-discovery and just using plain old elbow grease. Paying bills on your own and making ends meet, hard knocks at work … still trying to be the social butterfly you were in college, and getting up to be at work on time. It’s a time of adjustment and self-discovery. And, it eases on into your thirties — mark my word.
The life that you are about to discover will be easier if you never lose sight of your own talents. Open your heart to finding your passion. To some of you, again, it may be a man, but even then, please listen to Lolita. Never, ever lose yourself or your talents for someone else.
Always keep your passion, born from your talents, in mind. Even if you are sidetracked for a while. And try to use your talents, even if it’s making meals for a toddler. Use it or lose it.
I have a credo that I have lived by. Some of it comes from experience but other things have always been a part of me.
If you are working for someone else, which all of us do, always exceed a superior’s expectations by using your talents. Work overtime happily. Make your superiors look good. Be on time. Don’t be a needy 9-5 employee. Be reliable.
If you absolutely hate your job or marriage and are unhappy in life and don’t feel you are able to use any of your talents, move on. You are not doing yourself or anyone else any favors.
Support yourself because you can and it feels good.
Always be honest about everything, no matter how insignificant it may seem.
If you have an idea and think it could be successful, you have to know why it could be. Test it. Have a business model. Think strategically. Do your homework.
Keep the negative people in your life at a distance, or get rid of them altogether. You deserve to live a positive, joyous life.
Be wary of those that want to use your talents for their own personal gain.
Get some help where you are weak, no matter what it is. We all need help once in awhile.
Never give up on who you are or where your talents lie. You will be miserable if you do.
Reward others with praise, and do it often. They will help you. And likewise do the same!
Celebrate, love, and don’t be afraid to live.
Don’t let fear of the unknown hold you back from your dreams.
Be memorable. Be elegant. It will pay off. Live your moments by using your God given talents and your passion may even find you. Once you find your passion, go for it and don’t hold back.
Ladies, YOUR MOMENT IS NOW!
Original piece, posted 9/23/10:
You can read about her in the fall issue of The Mary Baldwin University Magazine and Business Week, but for a chance to hear from Tracy Lolita Burks Healy ’87 — the vivacious woman behind the signature stemware of Designs by Lolita — make sure you’re in the audience on Founders Day October 7.
Healy’s multi-million-dollar line of hand-painted martini glasses, beverage accessories, and an ever-expanding array of novelty items sprouted from “an ordinary night out with girlfriends,” she says. Her Mary Baldwin studies in marketing communication and art and experience working cosmetics, fashion, and fashion marketing — including time at Donna Karan New York — proved wise when she transitioned her home-based hobby to a wider market.
Healy will deliver the 169th Founders Day address at 12:15 p.m. in First Presbyterian Church, drawing from her brand tagline for her speech, “What is Your Moment?” Read more about Healy and Designs by Lolita in The Mary Baldwin University Magazine and visit go.marybaldwin.edu/news for updated information about her campus visit.