AIA New Jersey Member Suzanne DiGeronimo, FAIA, FSAME, Wins Golden Eagle Award

December 6, 2018

Suzanne DiGeronimo, FAIA, FSAME, Golden Eagle Award Recipient

The Society of American Military Engineers (SAME) Academy of Fellows Golden Eagle Awards are presented to two honorees: one.) for outstanding contributions to the engineering profession and to SAME; and two.) for outstanding contributions to national security. Over the last 22 years, many prominent Americans have been honored with the award.

 

 

In 2015, SAME expanded the award for Fellows to include outstanding contributions to the architecture, construction and engineering professions. In doing so, Ms. Suzanne DiGeronimo, FAIA, became the first architect – and first female – to be honored with the Golden Eagle Award.

 

 

Following is the text of Suzanne DiGeronimo’s acceptance speech.

 

 

 

GOLDEN EAGLE AWARD SPEECH

 

Thank you. Wow! The Golden Eagle Award. Thank you all for being here.

 

You know my dad was a tin can sailor in World War II bobbing along 21 continuous months in the Pacific. He saw the American flag raised high up Mount Suribachi, Iwo Jima. Thank you all of you veterans out there. You’ve accomplished an incredibly fine job for our country, for keeping us all free.

 

And my mom? She was a real Rosie the Riveter working in the factory on the home front. Our American production of war fighting goods in World War II was the envy of the world – and won war for the Allies. I thank all of you civilians out there working in Public Service. You are all truly awesome! 

 

And me? Well, I came along and upset the apple cart.

 

In my generation, girls’ were the fragile sex. Girls’ sports were half-game, half-court sorts of affairs. It was boys only for wood shop and drafting. Girls only for cooking and sewing. 

 

And an architectural profession? Don’t even think about it, said my college professor; it’s too tough for a girl.

 

I didn’t know I shouldn’t or that I couldn’t.

 

So I attended architectural school at night. I met my husband, my partner, my soul mate: Louis DiGeronimo. He’s here today. Hi Lou! We married and spread out a calendar to plan our family. We joke that our son Marcello ought to have received credit for two semesters of an architectural education – 9 months. 

 

Marcello’s here today. He’s a licensed architect working for Turner, just back from Qatar.

 

And no, his professors at Syracuse didn’t give him the credit.

 

But then again, neither did mine. The Dean threw me out of architectural school. Married women with children shouldn’t be architects.

 

I didn’t know I shouldn’t or that I couldn’t. 

 

Out in the work-world, my supervisor forbid me from entering the construction site; prostitutes serviced the crews there. I joined a professional society and the holiday meeting entertainment was a stripper. To attend a business meeting at a private University Club in Manhattan, I had to go through the kitchen and up the service elevator. No women allowed.

 

There were no women in military combat, no women in military leadership. 

 

Ah but all that was about to change as it does in this great country of ours not with the clash of the sword – but with the stroke of a pen. 

 

President Gerald Ford signed a bill that included a mandate that all the military academies were to admit women. The first graduating classes of hearty female midshipmen and cadets happened in 1980.    

 

No surprise then that in 1981 I receive my first Prime Contract with the Military; US Coast Guard, Third Coast Guard District, Governor’s Island. The Coast Guard District Engineer suggested I join SAME and so I did.  

 

I met New Jersey Post President Brigadier General Patrick J. McCarthy, New Jersey National Guard – a leprechaun of an American Irishman / a workaholic of an advocate of The Society. I met his wife Marie. Now Marie raised five kids all through Pat’s long military career and his extended absences. Need I say more about her spirit?

 

And so I progressed and became New Jersey Post President. The Core assigned a new New York District Engineer. That military position automatically received SAME position, head of North Atlantic Region. I invited the General to speak at my small NJ Post member meeting / held at the tiny enlisted club / at the obscure Military Ocean Terminal Bayonne, MOTBY – a place where only military luggage ever went.   

 

He came! Brigadier General Gerald C. ‘Jed’ Brown. Jean Jennings Brown, Jed’s wife is here today. She flew in from Abu Dhabi just to be here tonight. Thank you for coming Jean. Your presence here means so very much to me. 

 

Jed adopted me; he encouraged me to do all I could for the Post, the Region, for Nation. No restrictions, no barriers.

 

I didn’t know I shouldn’t or that I couldn’t.

 

So. What was it that made SAME as a professional organization so very attractive for me? It was the active participation of both military and civilians certainly – but also the welcome mat that SAME extends to family. 

 

For my own personal intellectual stimulation, the Society has always had the most mind-boggling technical sessions – sessions like no other engineering society has – hands down, no competition! Tour Cheyenne Mountain, tag along on a re-fueling bomber, learn techniques to secure and lock down core critical facilities.   

 

AND programs that invite others’ interest. New York Harbor inspection tours by Army vessel. Lectures on history at West Point. Summer Picnics at Picatinny. 

 

With SAME, its work and recreation, its men and women, leaders and doers, husbands and wives, all ranks, all working together – appreciating each other’s differences and celebrating each of our individual contributions / by this combination, our Society is the envy of the world.

 

And so my volunteer career with The Society has lasted 34 years! I’ve worked elbow to elbow with Rear Admiral Navy, Vice Admiral Coast Guard, Brigadier General Army, Major General Air Force, Lieutenant General Army, and among  all these giants, these heroes …   

 

Me. A little Polish Lithuanian girl born to the farms and coalmines of northeastern Pennsylvania.

 

So for Pat and Jed, for our Society’s rich legacy of leadership …

For the Fellows newly invested today…

For future SAME Fellows… maybe even my own grandkids,

 

I am proud to accept this, the Society of American Military Engineers, Academy of Fellows, Golden Eagle Award.

 

All my life I’ve been told I shouldn’t and that I couldn’t. Well, I did. 

 

And you know what? 

 

I’m not done yet! 

 

And that my friends is what being an SAME Fellow is all about.  

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