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Giffords sends message of hope during recognition event

“Be passionate! Be courageous! Be your very best!” The words were halting, but the message was eloquent and strong as former Congresswoman Gabrielle “Gabby” Giffords, a member of the Scripps College Class of 1993, returned to the campus to become only the third recipient of the Ellen Browning Scripps Medal, the college’s highest level of recognition.

Until Saturday’s ceremony in Bridges Auditorium, only 2 individuals have received the medal named for the college’s founder, Ellen Browning Scripps. They were First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton in 1994 and former US Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor in 1998.

An estimated 1400 attended the Saturday afternoon event, where Scripps President Lori Bettison-Varga lauded the courageous lawmaker who, on January 8, 2011, was gravely wounded in a shooting at a Congress on Your Corner gathering at a supermarket in her native Tucson, Arizona. The Congresswoman was among 19 who were hit by gunfire when a man began firing at the crowd. Six of those were killed.

Ms. Giffords subsequently went through extensive emergency brain surgery due to a bullet entering the back of her head and exiting through the front of her skull. She has since progressed through various surgeries and programs of physical, occupational and speech therapy.

Throughout the challenges of her recovery, her husband, Mark Kelly, a Captain in the United States Navy and astronaut who commanded the final mission of the space shuttle Endeavor in May 2011, has accompanied the 43-year old Democratic congresswoman. The couple has been married since November of 2007. Their family includes Captain Kelly’s daughters, Claudia and Claire.

Ms. Giffords began her governmental career in 2001 as a member of the Arizona House of Representatives from the 13th District. She then was elected to the Arizona State Senate’s 28th District where she served from 2003 to 2005. In 2007, she was elected to the US House of Representatives’ 8th District in Arizona in 2007 and served three terms until her resignation in January 2012. She was the youngest woman ever elected to Arizona’s state government.

During a 2009 commencement address at Scripps, Ms. Giffords emphasized the importance of public service and integrity. She was quoted as saying at the time, “Standing up for one’s own integrity makes you no friends…yet defiance of the mob, in the service of what which is right, is one of the highest expressions of courage I know.”

Following her graduation from Scripps, Ms. Giffords spent a year in Mexico as a Fulbright recipient. She went on to earn a master’s degree in regional planning from Cornell University. She worked as an associate for regional economic development in New York City before returning to Arizona as chief executive officer of El Campo Tire Warehouses, an automotive business owned by her grandfather.

Although she resigned from her congressional post in 2012, she has vowed that “I will return, and we will work together for Arizona and this great country.”

While it has not yet happened, there are reports that a US Navy ship, a littoral combat ship (LCS-10), will be named the USS Gabrielle Giffords.

And earlier this year, Ms. Giffords and her husband, now retired from the Navy and NASA, formed Americans for Responsible Solutions with a stated aim of encouraging elected officials to stand up for ways to prevent gun violence and protect responsible gun ownership.

Scripps President Bettison-Varga said of the event, “Our community joined together today in celebration of Gabrielle Giffords and all she has accomplished on behalf of women, civil discourse and our country. Her leadership brings people together.”

Ms. Giffords and her husband wrote a book in 2011 about their lives called Gabby: A Story of Courage and Hope. Most of it, necessarily, is the voice of Captain Kelly, but the final chapter in the book is in Ms. Gifford’s own words, and she concludes by writing, “I will get stronger. I will return.”

—Pat Yarborough

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