Jackie Joyner-Kersee sits around a table to speak with Lehigh students

Staying true to yourself. Aligning yourself with the right people. Setting and then reaching your goals. 

All ambitions of students, young professionals, and Olympic athletes.

Those topics anchored the discussion between track and field Olympian Jackie Joyner-Kersee and an intimate group of Lehigh students who had the pleasure of meeting her and participating in a lunch and roundtable discussion following Joyner-Kersee’s keynote address at the Soaring Together Women’s Summit.

The summit celebrated 50 years of undergraduate coeducation, bringing together Lehigh alumnae of all identities to meet, share their stories, and be inspired. In addition to the keynote, the summit included alumnae-led breakout sessions on a variety of topics and networking opportunities.

The students were awed when moderator Khayla Atte ’05, head coach of women’s track and field, introduced Joyner-Kersee by listing her impressive athletic feats, including that Joyner-Kersee was able to throw a javelin the length of half of a football field, jump over the length of two compact cars, and run around half the track in just 22 seconds. 

"Where you see yourself going, make sure you line up with people that share your same vision and mission," said Joyner-Kersee.

“For me, it was always managing my own expectations and not letting the expectation of others supersede what I felt capable of doing,” Joyner-Kersee said. “It's the role of the individual to know what their brand is and what they want their brand to be about. Whatever brand you all have for yourself, where you see yourself going, make sure you line up with people that share your same vision and mission.”

“You have gone on to live a life for others, which is part of what Lehigh aspires to for the academic and educational experience for its students,” Atte said.

Jackie Joyner Kersee poses with studentsMany students said they found Joyner-Kersee’s keynote talk inspiring, and that being able to continue the conversation in a more personal way was an amazing experience. 

“It was beautiful to hear about her journey. As a Black woman, having her speak was so influential and a great representation of Black women succeeding in their field,” said Kayla Miller ’23, a marketing major and business information systems minor. 

Joyner-Kersee emphasized the importance of having a mentor in life. She said that everything she has accomplished is because she had mentors leading her through it, whether that was her dad or her coaches. 

During the discussion, Atte asked students how many of them felt that they had a true mentor to help them through their own chosen paths. Out of the 12 students, only three raised their hands. 

“Your homework is finding someone that can really help you — someone who's been in the field and can talk about the ups and downs,” Joyner-Kersee advised the students. 

Joyner-Kersees's mentors were a big part of her success, but she also noted that all her relationships were critical to her life. She said one of the best skills to have is listening and communicating. “Having these skills will strengthen your relationships with others and help you to become successful in your own field. It doesn’t matter if you are the smartest person in the room. If you are shy and unable to communicate with people, you won’t be able to get far.”

As a last piece of wisdom, Joyner-Kersee touched on the idea of treating everyone as equals. She emphasized that no one is beneath you and the importance of being kind to everyone. 

“I just want to say good luck to each and every one of you in your chosen fields. Always work hard. Be kind to yourself and be kind to others,” said Joyner-Kersee. 

“I thought it was very inspirational,” said Cecily Ritchie ’23, a double major in health, medicine and society and environmental studies. “It's really cool to hear from someone so successful and accomplished. Her telling her story and sharing her struggle is very inspirational and something that people need to hear.”