Lisa Robinson Senn, a member of the Erskine College Class of 1981, delivered this year’s Frances Cardwell Lecture in Lesesne Auditorium March 15, describing some of her early experiences as an attorney and offering advice to students as they begin making their way in the world.
Senn practices law in Newberry and serves on the Erskine Board of Trustees.
She said that when she was invited to give the Cardwell Lecture, “I immediately agreed, because as anyone who knows me well will testify, I have an opinion, or something to say about just about everything.”
Senn was the only female attorney actually practicing law in Newberry when she started out. In those early days, she said, an older male attorney once pointed his finger at her in the courtroom, “close enough to bite if I had wanted,” and demanded that the judge “tell this little girl to sit down.”
The judge replied that he would not countenance such behavior in his courtroom and told the attorney to sit down instead. “I won that case,” she said with a smile.
Commenting on handling situations in which she has been snubbed because of her gender, Senn observed, “Rarely is one sorry he or she took the high road.”
In the second part of her address, Senn spoke to students about the blessings of the Erskine community, talked about their transition into the larger world after college, and offered advice about beginning their careers.
“Do not speak derisively of this small community,” she told her audience. “You will learn soon enough how blessed you were to be a part of this oasis that is Erskine College and Due West.”
Erskine offers even more than the ordinary sense of community that characterizes many small colleges. “Combine the small size with Due West’s relative remoteness, and you have a recipe for strong ties.”
The Erskine experience can also provide a “learning laboratory” for future interactions, in which students “learn to recognize both hypocrisy and integrity, because you see them at close range,” Senn said. “You know whether a person is the same in church on Sunday, in class on Tuesday, in the stands at the basketball game on Friday, or at a Philo party on Saturday night.”
The best preparation for moving into the larger world is “to lay a good personal foundation,” she said. “It is incumbent upon you to search out and discover your talents and to use them in the most effective way possible in the service of our Creator.”
Presenting more than a dozen items of advice for young people embarking on their careers, Senn began by telling students, “When you are just starting out, expect to work hard,” and adding, “If you are not working hard, you are probably doing something wrong, and that is what will likely get noticed.”
She also cautioned students about their “so-called private internet postings”; urged them to admit their mistakes and learn from them; warned them not to think that small or low-paying jobs are beneath them; and encouraged them to “care about those who are less privileged than yourself and recognize a collective responsibility for the good of all.”
Senn recognized family members in the audience, including her parents, the Rev. Dr. Bob and Mary Robinson, both Erskine graduates; her daughter, Mary Alex Senn ’11; and her future son-in-law, Robbie Kopp ’10. Her son, Rob Senn ’10, was unable to attend. “I think you can see we are a thoroughly Erskine family,” she said.
The Frances Cardwell Lecture series brings successful alumnae back to the Erskine campus to speak to students and faculty annually. The Cardwell Lecture Series honors the memory of Dr. Frances Livingston Cardwell, dean of women, academic counselor, and professor of English at Erskine between 1953 and 1977. Cardwell died in 2004 at the age of 92.