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The GOLD Speaker Series

The GOLD Speaker Series brings compelling leaders who are trailblazers in their fields to speak to Brenau students and the community as an ongoing component of The Women’s College’s GOLD Program. Each year, the program emphasizes one of four carefully chosen themes, including Gender awareness, Ownership of personal responsibility and civic engagement, Leadership and Diversity.

Previous Speakers

Justice Leah Ward Sears

Justice Leah Ward Sears


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

Sears 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 holds a bachelor’s degree from Cornell University, a Juris Doctor from Emory University Law School, and an LLM from the University of Virginia. She also holds honorary degrees from Spelman College, Clark Atlanta University, Piedmont College, LaGrange College, Savannah State University and Morehouse College, as well as from Atlanta’s John Marshall Law School.

In addition, Sears is a recipient of the Emory Medal, the American Bar Association’s Margaret Brent Award and the Daily Report’s Lifetime Achievement Award, and she’s been named a Best Lawyer in Georgia and a Georgia Super Lawyer numerous times. Sears was also bestowed the honor of being named Best Lawyers in America’s 2019 Lawyer of the Year (Appellate Practice) in Atlanta. A biography of Sears, “Seizing Serendipity” by Rebecca Davis, was published by University of Georgia Press in 2017.

Sears contributes her talents in the legal, academic and nonprofit sectors, as well as the community at large. She serves on the boards of trustees of Emory University, the Carter Center, the American Academy of Appellate Lawyers and the Georgia Historical Society. In addition, she continues to be involved with the Atlanta chapter of the Links Inc. as an alumni member, and Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc.

Sears is married to Haskell Sears Ward, and has two children, Addison and Brennan Sears-Collins, as well as a beloved dog, Suave.

Norma Hernandez

Norma Hernandez


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For decades, Norma Hernandez has worked as an advocate for the Latino community, serving as a bridge between the different cultures, teaching understanding and teamwork.

A native of Honduras, Hernandez came to Gainesville, Georgia, in 1987 and became a United States citizen in 1989. She has a bachelor’s in accounting from the Institute Debe Y Haber of Accountants in Honduras.

Hernandez is the president of the Northeast Georgia Latino Chamber of Commerce, a position that she has held since June 2017. In that role, she manages the strategic, fiscal and programmatic goals for the chamber. She is also chair of the Hall County COVID Task Force.

Before becoming chamber president, Hernandez formed and served as president of the Northeast Georgia Hispanic Alliance, the first Latino advocacy organization in Gainesville. During her time at the NGHA, she hosted several citizenship drives — assisting more than 350 people to become United States citizens — and encouraged citizens to vote.

Hernandez previously served for more than seven years as the first Latino community service officer for the City of Gainesville Police Department before becoming court clerk for the Gainesville Municipal Court. She went on to become the assistant director for the Victim Assistance Program of the District Attorney’s Office, serving Hall and Dawson counties.

In 1993, Hernandez received the prestigious Liberty Bell Award in recognition of her outstanding community service and promotion of better understanding and respect for the law. She has served on many boards and with civic organizations in Gainesville, including the United Way, March of Dimes, Salvation Army and Gateway House, and started the first all Latino Boys Scouts Troop that came out of the old Atlanta Street apartments.

Hernandez became an entrepreneur in 1999 and opened Norma Hernandez Business Services, through which she served the Latino business community with services like business and financial consulting and accounting while also serving nine counties as a court interpreter. She started her second business, Capital Title Pawn, in 2016.

Hernandez is a happy mother of two young men, Raul and Josue.

Janie Bryant

From the Academy to the Emmy: Janie Bryant’s Design for Success


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Brenau Academy alumna and Hollywood costume designer Janie Bryant shared her story of success in the competitive field of costume design during a virtual Zoom talk Tuesday, July 14.

Since her time at Brenau, Bryant has traveled the world including Paris, Toronto, New York City and Bucharest, Romania. Her most notable credits include the 2017 remake of Stephen King’s It, HBO’s Deadwood, for which she won an Emmy, and AMC’s Mad Men, which earned her four Emmy nominations.

Bryant has designed Mad Men collections in collaboration with AMC and Banana Republic and has worked with many brands including Brooks Brothers, Sony, Nike, eBay, Airbnb and Hearts on Fire Diamonds. In 2011, she released her first book, The Fashion File: Advice, Tips, and Inspiration from the Costume Designer of Mad Men, which offers style tips and inspiration as well as a peek into the design process for various Mad Men characters.

Her most recent projects are FX’s The Old Man starring Jeff Bridges and John Lithgow and CBS All Access’ season two of Why Women Kill. She also recently launched her own clothing line for curvy women called JXB.

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Leatrice Gochberg

Leatrice Eckber Gochberg

Leatrice Eckber Gochberg spoke about her struggles trying to break into the real estate world as a woman in the 1960s on Wednesday, Sept. 25, in front of a full Hosch Theatre.

Gochberg had to fight her way through the male-dominated world of real estate. While she found incredible success in real estate, Gochberg originally started out wanting to become an opera singer after studying music for most of her life. To help with her career goals, Gochberg earned her bachelor’s degrees in music and vocal performance from The Eastman School of Music of the University of Rochester and was awarded a master’s degree in music from the Manhattan School of Music.

She was offered a contract with the Metropolitan Opera, but was unable to continue with her career due to asthma. With her husband, Thomas, finishing his education at Columbia University, the couple decided Leatrice would have to find a new job.

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