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Sylvia Hillyard Pannell, center, with outgoing USITT President John S. Uthoff, left, and Zelma H. Weisfeld, Ms. Pannell's long-time Conference roommate and mentor, at the 2006 Awards Banquet.

Photo/Tom Thatcher


Pannell Accepts Gavel

Sylvia Hillyard Pannell recently accepted the gavel to begin her presidency of USITT. Following is her acceptance speech.

On April 12, 1945 Harry Truman was summoned to the White House. Ushered into Eleanor Roosevelt's sitting room, the vice president was gently informed that President Roosevelt had died.

"Is there anything I can do for you?" Truman asked. "Is there anything we can do for you?" Eleanor replied. "You're the one in trouble now!"

It is with eager anticipation, but not without understanding Eleanor Roosevelt's admonitory note, that I receive the gavel tonight and become the 23rd President of this extraordinary organization that has been so important in the professional, educational, and personal lives of so many of us here this evening -- the United States Institute for Theatre Technology.

Standing here before you, having advanced to this rank in USITT, is indeed a great honor, and I wish I could personally thank each of you with whom I have shared so much:

  • Working together on the Board of Directors, on conference panels, on design exhibits;
  • Working together on committees, at national conferences, as members of Commissions;
  • Working together closer to home in our thriving Regional Sections; and
  • Working together across international borders with our good Canadian friends through CITT and throughout the world through OISTAT and the fabulous Prague Quadrennial.

Along with all of our work and accomplishments, we've developing invaluable professional networks, and close personal colleagues and friends locally, nationally, and internationally. We've shared many good times and fellowship.

I did not arrive here alone; you were all a part of the journey and I am in your debt. There are some among us and sadly, some who are not, to whom I offer very special thanks.

First, I want to thank my late mother, Forest Stewart Hillyard, who encouraged me to engage in a fulfilling career and who supported and nurtured my decision to pursue a livelihood in the theatre. There were several reasons for her gusto. On one hand, she was a woman ahead of her time and her feminist leanings prompted her enthusiasm for a career-girl daughter; on the other, she was a thrifty woman who clung to the hope that I might one day become self-supporting.

I want to thank my conference roommate of many years, my role-model, my inspiration, my friend and a legend in her own time, Zelma Weisfeld.

I want us to remember and I wish to thank our good friend and colleague, the late Don Stowell -- my teacher and counselor over the years. Don encouraged me to take part in the Costume Commission. he stressed the importance of participation in USITT's international arm, and he sponsored me in leadership capacities in the Institute.

I want to thank Dr. August Staub, professor emeritus and retired head of the Department of Drama at the University of Georgia who, in so many ways shaped my career, placing a special focus on the value of participation in USITT for me, for the students and faculty of the department of drama (many of whom are here this evening), and for the University of Georgia. Go dawgs!

I wish to thank Sarah Nash Gates, the first woman to serve as USITT's president, for this beautiful corsage. Her presidential legacy sets a very high standard and her legendary arrival, astride a steed, to give her presidential acceptance address remains unrivaled, despite the equine resources available to me here in Louisville, home of the Kentucky Derby.

Last, only because he joined this roster last chronologically, though certainly not least, I want to thank my husband Clifton Pannell, who is about to have to endure much more USITT conversation at home than ever before. Clif is not here tonight because he is teaching at Oxford University, but he wants to thank our friend Charles Berliner for being my banquet squire in his absence.

Our USITT mission is to actively promote the advancement of the knowledge and skills of our members and our vision is to be a prominent leader of theatre design and technology through our Conferences, exhibitions, awards, publications and research.

With respect to the mission and vision, my presidential goals include:

  • Promoting the advancement of 21st century knowledge and skills by seeking the voice of young professionals and students, and broadcasting it throughout the Institute; and
  • Raising money for the Institute, and I need your support to do it.

We have heard the refrain extolling the advantages and delights of USITT Annual Conference & Stage Expo attendance repeated from Donna Ruzika's charming Sightlines article to this podium where USITT is inevitably hailed for its importance to us professionally and personally. Because of USITT we have:

  • valuable friends and colleagues that we would not otherwise have;
  • knowledge that we would not otherwise know;
  • traveled places where we might not have traveled;
  • graduate assistantships, prizes, grants and fellowships, jobs and even careers!

The opportunity to assure that future generations of theatre designers and technologists may grow, prosper, and have the advantages that this very special organization has provided its membership for nearly 50 years is now available through our USITT@50 campaign, Honoring our Past-Securing our Future. In honor of USITT's 50th Anniversary in the year 2010, a special five-year fund-raising campaign is underway. As your president, I want you to contribute to one (or more) of USITT's funds for five consecutive years. Thank you, those of you who have already made your contribution. Those who have not, may easily do so by completing a five-year intention form found on line at our website

We will make USITT's 50th birthday celebration in 2010 a priority as Institute planning goes forward. Plans are underway to mark this occasion with events that celebrate and are celebrated by all members of USITT. Together we will usher in the next 50 years.

Finally, while our international efforts have achieved considerable success and we have taken advantage of many global opportunities, our efforts to advance our domestic goals in diversifying our membership remain illusive. One of my goals is to continue the work to make USITT a more diverse and multi-cultural organization.

The past should be a guidepost, not a hitching post.

For guidance I will seek the wisdom of the office staff, the Executive Committee and its emeriti members, and the members of USITT. As USITT becomes a fully developed 21st century Institute, decisions must be made and appropriate directions must be chosen to assure that we remain a professionally viable, successfully managed, and financially secure membership organization. With your help, forbearance, and hard work, USITT's future is bright.

It is with honor and humility that, by your choice, I humbly join the roster of outstanding men and women who have served the Institute in an executive capacity, and I will strive to fill the colossal shoes of the 22 presidents who preceded me.

Thank you.

To read a profile of Ms. Pannell, click here.

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