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CCU Atheneum: Barbara Pierce Bush, CCU First Lady Terri DeCenzo and Jenna Bush Hager at the 2018 Women’s Leadership Conference and Celebration of Inspiring Women.
Barbara Pierce Bush, CCU First Lady Terri DeCenzo and Jenna Bush Hager at the 2018 Women’s Leadership Conference and Celebration of Inspiring Women.

WIPL welcomes Bush sisters

by Caroline P. Rohr
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The eighth annual Women’s Leadership Conference and Celebration of Inspiring Women was a sell-out event this year Feb. 5-6 and filled the Myrtle Beach Convention Center with laughs, inspiration, motivation and even a few tears.

Nearly 800 women attended the conference on Feb. 6 to hear keynote speakers Jenna Hager and Barbara Pierce Bush, author Cara Brookins, Boeing’s Joan Robinson-Berry and NASCAR driver Julia Landauer. The conference is presented by Women in Philanthropy and Leadership (WIPL) at Coastal Carolina University.

“This conference has grown each year, and we hear over and over again that people look forward to it,” said Hatton Gravely, director of WIPL. “I believe it has grown organically as women share with other women that it is a not-to-miss event.”

The Bush sisters, daughters of former President George W. and First Lady Laura Bush, opened the conference in a casual format, sitting in chairs onstage with CCU First Lady Terri DeCenzo and conference emcee Meghan Miller from WBTW News 13. They talked about their new book, “Sisters First,” and offered insights into serving others, balancing life and work, and the importance of sisterhood.

“Sisterhood is the reason we wrote the book,” Hager said. “To have women friends who support me, who understand, who listen … it’s this unbelievable empowerment. It’s a broader term for mentorship.”

“Peer mentorship is tremendous,” Bush echoed. “There are days you go to work and think you can’t do this, but there are thousands of us, so we can do this. It makes me dream bigger and work really, really hard.”

Cara Brookins, author of “Rise: How a House Built a Family,” shared the story about how she and her four children decided they needed to do something big in their lives to change their story and ended up building a two-story, five-bedroom house by themselves in nine months.

“Attitude of any kind is contagious,” she said. “Achieving your greatest dream changes you. Don’t cling to limitations; you don’t need them.”

Breakout sessions were held before and after lunch and included such topics as cybersecurity, female executives, parenting, life balance, financial success, sexual harassment and more.

New to the conference this year was a health expo sponsored by Tidelands Health, “Better. Be strong. Be healthy. Be you.” Tidelands served as the health and wellness community partner of the conference, “fulfilling the commitment to recognize the vital role women’s health plays in our shared journey through womanhood,” DeCenzo said in her opening remarks.

“The expo was a huge success, and Tidelands Health did a tremendous job of bringing in experts and exhibits related to women’s health to help us lead better lives,” said Gravely.

Two-time NASCAR champion driver Julia Landauer closed the conference with her keynote address, “Can Nice Girls Win (Races)?”

The conference was preceded by the Celebration of Inspiring Women on Feb. 5 that honored CCU alumna and U.S. Olympian Amber Campbell; Horry Georgetown Technical College President Marilyn Fore; Teen Angels founder Renee Hembree; Boeing South Carolina Vice President and General Manager Joan Robinson-Berry; and Terri Springs Rhodes, wife of former Myrtle Beach Mayor John Rhodes.

WIPL has raised more than $37,000 in scholarships for students during the 2017-18 academic year, and DeCenzo emphasized that “students are the reason we are here” during her remarks, speaking to the students present directly.

“Find inspiration for your journeys … ask for a mentor or leader, because that is often the issue today – we don’t ask for help. You have the intellect and ability to change the future of our campus, our nation and the world. It will be your pursuit of justice and your continued pursuit of equality that will move humanity forward.”

For more information about WIPL, visit or contact Gravely at


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