Recently, The Academy was honored to welcome Mary Mazzio as the second guest in our Women in Leadership Speaker Series. Ms. Mazzio’s inspiring body of work extends from athletics (an Olympic rower) to the arts (an accomplished documentary filmmaker). Her films have become agents of social change, leading to increased awareness of vital issues and legislation to address them. 

Prior to her visit, students had the opportunity to watch Ms. Mazzio’s film, A Hero for Daisy, a documentary that chronicles two-time Olympic rower Chris Ernst and her strong stand for women’s rights under Title IX during her time at Yale University. At the beginning of Ms. Mazzio’s talk, she played a short video greeting from her daughter Daisy (the film’s namesake) who is a rower at Yale. Her advice for students was to recognize the women who came before us and to make the world a better place for the young women who will follow you. This set the perfect tone for Ms. Mazzio’s talk about her career and the lessons she has learned.

3 Life Lessons from Ms. Mazzio

Life Lesson #1: Rules are not always meant to be followed.

Ms. Mazzio shared how important it is to be vigilant that as women, we are walking into a world with certain norms and barriers that often need to be challenged in order for us to get ahead. “Sometimes, in a man’s world, you have to rewrite the rules,” she said. When assessing which rules to follow and which ones to break, she encouraged the audience to think about what their rationale would be for each course of action and decide where to go from there.

Life Lesson #2: We all have talents but until we start believing in them, nothing will happen.

Ms. Mazzio shared her journey to becoming an Olympic athlete, which started when she watched the Games for the first time when she was twelve. After cheerleading in high school, she was eager to find a sport where she could directly “be part of the action rather than on the sidelines.” During her first semester at Mount Holyoke College, Ms. Mazzio was invited by the Rowing Coach to attend the first practice. Over 100 women turned up for less than 25 spots and she was initially cut. She was persistent and was eventually able to get on the rowing team throughout her time in college. After graduating, she began attending rowing camps to try to make the national team. Again, she kept getting cut year after year but every year, she made it further along. A coach even told her that she should just move on. Rather than give up, Ms. Mazzio was determined to make her Olympic dream come true. She began working with Chris Ernst, who challenged her to stop making excuses and to believe in her talent. “I put sticky notes up everywhere with my goals and what I wanted to be and that year, everything I wrote came true,” she said. With this new attitude and resolve, Ms. Mazzio was able to move up from the 15th ranked rower in sculling to the third spot in the country and earned a spot on the Olympic team.

Life Lesson #3: Commit fully.

Ms. Mazzio shared that she had a lightbulb moment when she was sitting and watching television while nine months pregnant with her daughter Daisy. She saw a Victoria’s Secret commercial and thought how none of the models in the ad resembled any women she knew in real life. As she changed the channels, she saw more and more of the same image of what society felt young women should aspire to become. At that moment, she decided her daughter Daisy needed to have role models who were strong, tenacious, and not always just another willowy blond model. Ms. Mazzio immediately thought of Chris Ernst and the idea for A Hero for Daisy was born. She had never directed or produced a film but connected with a friend in the ad business and was able to pitch the idea with such conviction that the friend called everyone she knew in the film industry to get Ms. Mazzio the resources needed to make the film. It debuted in 2000 and has been monumental for raising awareness about Title IX and giving women of all ages an inspiring role model.

Students asked great questions and Ms. Mazzio even gave the first brave few a hat featuring the logo of her production company, 50 Eggs. Kaitlyn F. ‘20, asked: “How did you keep going and not get defeated?” and Ms. Mazzio answered: “I’m very stubborn. People are going to tell you discouraging messages but you can’t let that stop you. My mother said that you can cry for a day but then get back up and try again and that’s what I do.”

Phoebe T. ‘22, asked: “Other than your daughter, what inspires you in your work?” Ms. Mazzio answered: “Getting to amplify the voices of those who don’t have a voice” is what is meaningful to her. Ellie B. ‘19 shared that she wants to have a career just like Ms. Mazzio’s and they connected after the talk to discuss ways they could stay in touch.

Ms. Mazzio’s inspiring words remind all of us how important it is to lift others up and to work hard to make a difference in the world both for ourselves and for those who come after us.

To learn more about Ms. Mazzio and her films, visit the website for 50 Eggs, her film production company.