GOLD Speaker Series to feature Norma Hernandez and Justice Leah Ward Sears

Aug 10, 2020
Kathryne Davis
Norma Hernandez (AJ Reynolds/Brenau University)

The Women’s College of Brenau University will host two highly accomplished and trailblazing women in September as part of its GOLD Speaker Series.

The free online talks will feature Norma Hernandez, president of the Northeast Georgia Latino Chamber of Commerce, on Tuesday, Sept. 1, at 12:45 p.m., and former Georgia Supreme Court Justice Leah Ward Sears on Wednesday, Sept. 16, 12:30 p.m. Both events are open to the public, but advance registration at is required to receive the Zoom links.

The dynamic speaker series is an ongoing component of The Women’s College’s GOLD Program, which in this “O” year focuses on ownership of personal responsibility and challenges students to participate in the democratic process. The first “G” year dedicated to gender awareness just wrapped up, and the ensuing “L” and “D” years will focus on leadership and diversity.

“Our focus this year is on civic engagement, community-based service and personal development, and these women are an inspiration in all those areas,” said Debra Dobkins, dean of The Women’s College. “We’re excited and honored to have them join us, and I’m eager for our students and the larger Brenau community to hear their stories.”

Hernandez has held her current position since June 2017, managing the strategic, fiscal and programmatic goals for the chamber. She chairs the Hall County COVID Task Force and is very involved in the community. Hernandez has served on many boards and with civic organizations in Gainesville, Georgia, including the United Way, March of Dimes, Salvation Army and Gateway House.

“I take every opportunity to be able to encourage people to do better and to get out the leader in them,” said Hernandez, who holds a bachelor’s in accounting from the Institute Debe Y Haber of Accountants in her native Honduras. “I like to talk to women because we have a power that we sometimes think is just inside, and we need somebody to tell us that it’s there.”

In addition, Hernandez formed and served as president of the Northeast Georgia Hispanic Alliance, the first Latino advocacy organization in Gainesville. Working with the alliance, Hernandez, who became a United States citizen in 1989, helped others on their path to citizenship.

“I invited Norma Hernandez to speak as part of The Women’s College GOLD Series because our focus this year is on civic engagement, community-based service and personal development, and Norma is an inspiration in all those areas,” Dobkins said. “When she accepted my invitation, she said, ‘When there’s an opportunity to inspire, I’m there!’”

Justice Leah Ward Sears (Photo courtesy of Justice Sears)

Justice Sears is a partner in the Business Litigation and Appellate Practice at Smith, Gambrell & Russell LLP in Atlanta. Before returning to private practice, she spent 17 years of service on the Georgia Supreme Court, including four years as chief justice.

She was the first woman and youngest justice to serve on the state’s Supreme Court, the first woman to serve as a superior court judge in Fulton County and the first woman to win a contested statewide election in Georgia. In 2005, she became the first African American woman to serve as chief justice of any state supreme court in the country.

Sears is no stranger to sharing her story and said she does it “because I think it’s the right thing to do.”

“When you’ve had the kind of career that I’ve had, I think it’s good to try to talk to younger people to let them know how you made it and what you think they can do,” she said.

Sears received her bachelor’s degree from Cornell University, a Juris Doctor from Emory University Law School and an LLM from the University of Virginia, and holds honorary degrees from multiple colleges and universities. She has been named Best Lawyer in Georgia and a Georgia Super Lawyer numerous times and was Best Lawyers in America’s 2019 Lawyer of the Year (Appellate Practice) in Atlanta. Her biography, Seizing Serendipity by Rebecca Davis, was published by University of Georgia Press in 2017.

Past GOLD Speaker Series guests have included Brenau Academy alumna Janie Bryant, who shared her story of challenges and successes as an Emmy Award-winning Hollywood costume designer, and Leatrice Eckber Gochberg, who told students of how she fought her way through the male-dominated world of New York City real estate.

For more information, contact Lacey Wilcoxson at