The University Record, September 28, 1992

Three alumnae share their triumphs in Campaign kickoff panel

By Deborah Gilbert
News and Information Services

In 1977, Sara Duvall, U-M alumna and executive producer of the acclaimed film Fried Green Tomatoes, was a media specialist laboring in the workrooms of the Lincoln School district. “Then one day, I decided to make movies rather than show them,” she said, “and headed for the London International Film School.”

Once there, she was told by the head of the school, “You have an impressive portfolio and background but you are wasting your time. There is no place for women in the film industry.” Duvall spent the following 15 years proving him very wrong.

Duvall told her tale during a three-woman panel discussion on “Expanding Horizons,” hosted by the Center for the Education of Women at the Lydia Mendelssohn Theater Sept. 18 during Campaign for Michigan kickoff activities.

Cindy Egolf-Sham Rao, the first U-M woman candidate for a Ph.D. in conducting, had a similar story. As a trumpet player in high school, her conductor thought he was paying her a high compliment when he said, “You know, Cindy? If I put you behind a curtain and heard you play, I would swear you were a boy.”

But she persevered, and has since conducted the University Musical Society Festival Chorus, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Walla Walla Symphony and the Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra.

Alexa I. Canady, director of neurosurgery at Children’s Hospital of Michigan and the first female Black neurosurgeon in the United States, blithely noted that she went to medical school because “I needed a car, and a minority fellowship would pay for half of it.”

However, it was not easy. “Trailblazers in a profession are often a little bitter. They work so hard and don’t always get their proper due. Then others come behind them, when it is easier, and they still don’t get their due.”

Commenting on the “glass ceiling,” she said, “Women now participate, but we still don’t have control. When you are cut out of a situation, don’t grin and bear it. There is no virtue in a smile when you are being dispossessed.”