State Sen. Leticia Van de Putte ascended to the podium to thunderous applause, drawing a standing ovation from nearly 600 students. Her skirt and jacket were perfectly ironed, and a ruffled shirt peeped out from her severe blazer. She dressed for business, and she spoke with a declarative tone. She is short. She is loud. And she labeled herself as a proud “mommy.”
On Tuesday, Van de Putte and State Sen. Wendy Davis spoke to a full ballroom of UT students and faculty during the Orange Jackets’ annual Texas Tea event. In its third year, the event focused on female leaders and brought keynote speakers for students to hear. Students lined up in a queue that circled the West Mall courtyard and quickly filled the ballroom for the event.
“When I was first running for office, people questioned ‘Who will take care of your children?’” Van de Putte said. “And I replied [that] my husband will. ‘Your husband is going to babysit them?’ No, my husband does not babysit. He parents. I parent.”
Van de Putte, who is currently running for Texas lieutenant governor, emphasized the importance of defining oneself.
“I am not defined by who Pete Van de Putte is,” Van de Putte said. “Or who my daddy was. I don’t allow anyone to define me. Don’t be defined by someone else’s expectations.”
Van de Putte’s foray into public service started because of her involvement within the private sector. As a pharmacist who owns her own medical clinic, she linked her profession to her ability to provide expertise on issues such as health care and described her motherhood as a resource for the education battle. She ran for a San Antonio state representative seat in 1990 without any political experience and a predicted loss, and she won. Van de Putte became a state senator in 1999.
Van de Putte said that a voice is a powerful thing. She urged women to be vocal and to define their goals and pursue them. On the day of Davis’ 11-hour filibuster, Van de Putte – president pro temp of the Texas Senate – was forced to raise her hand in order to be allowed to speak while her male colleagues spoke with ease.
“At what point must a female senator raise her hand for her voice to be recognized over the male colleagues in the room?” Van de Putte said during the filibuster.
Van de Putte took the step toward officially running for lieutenant governor when Grace Garcia — executive director of Annie’s List, a political women’s advocacy group — encouraged her. Garcia said after the filibuster more women went to Annie’s List candidate training sessions than before.
“When we had Candidate 101 training before the filibuster, we averaged 40-50 women,” Garcia said. “After the filibuster, our training sessions were selling out. Women wanted to learn, at least, how to run for office.”
Eva Valilis, Texas Tea coordinator and public health senior, said she refuses to let her gender be a limiting factor.
“In my [medical] school interviews, there were a lot of physicians saying, ‘Are you sure you’ll be able to do this and still be able to go to your kids’ soccer practices?’” Valilis said. “I think that people’s notions about how females are as professionals need to change. I expect to pursue my goals in the same way any male would.”
Valilis said she intends to use her future medical career to be a beacon for women in the professional world. Leadership can be found everywhere, Valilis said, and Van de Putte echoed her words.
“There are leadership positions at every level,” Van de Putte said. “Success is defined very differently in the younger generation. It’s [about] being of value, having a life of significance.”