Returning to her alma mater to meet with students and tour research facilities, U.S. Sen. Patty Murray urged women to embrace leadership roles and take chances.

When people tell you you can’t do something, stand up and do it,” said Murray, who in 1992 became the first female elected to the U.S. Senate from the state of Washington and now is the congressional chamber’s sixth‑most senior member. “Don’t let the naysayers stop you. You don’t win every time, but every time you take something on you get stronger, you learn something. Don’t let fear run your life.”

Murray, a 1972 WSU grad whose Tuesday visit was hosted by the Foley Institute as part of the “Women in leadership” series, said it’s important for all students, male and female, to get involved.

In addition to her public presentation at the Chinook recreation center, Murray met with student and university leaders and toured WSU’s Plant Growth Facilities.

In her public presentation, Murray credited WSU with giving her the confidence and skills to pursue a political career, explaining she learned the power of speaking up during her first year on the Pullman campus after learning that women were allowed in the dining hall only if they were wearing dresses.

“That was a year that was really cold,” Murray recalled. “There was a lot of snow, and I thought this is the most ridiculous, unfair rule I have ever seen.”

She began talking about it, learned others had similar feelings and they began working to get the rule changed. “We went out, we worked, and now all of you can wear jeans to your dining hall,” she said to laughter and applause.

It also became a lesson in how even small changes can make a difference.

Murray offered the following advice:

  • Take the risk of speaking up:

    “You deserve to be heard,” she said. “Don’t be afraid to do things you never thought you could do.”

  • Stand with each other:

    “There’s a saying that behind every great man is a great woman. Well the truth is behind every strong woman is a whole lot of other strong women.” Following her election to the U.S. Senate, Murray created a bipartisan women’s dinner for the six women serving in the chamber, a group that still meets and now is 25 members strong. “No one accomplishes anything by themselves,” she said.

  • Stand up to bullies:

    “People have so often told me that I couldn’t do something or that I wasn’t up to a challenge. I didn’t listen and here I am.”

“The fact is that in this country today, we do need each and every one of you,” Murray said. “So I appreciate everybody who is standing up and speaking out and not giving up and trying because that’s what will really make our country move forward.”