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FNCE® 2023 Opening Session Remarks

These are the prepared remarks by Academy President Lauri Wright, PhD, RDN, LDN, FAND, October 7 at the Opening Session of the 2023 Food & Nutrition Conference & Expo® in Denver, Colo.

"The entire world looks to us for our ideas, our expertise and our results when it comes to helping communities in all corners of the globe to achieve health. In turn, we draw on the world for ideas and opportunities to expand the reach and influence of dietitians, now and in coming years." – Academy President Lauri Wright, PhD, RDN, LDN, FAND

Academy President Lauri Wright, PhD, RDN, LDN, FAND on stage speaking to a packed auditoriumWelcome, Academy!

I am so proud of the work you do, each and every day, to ensure the health of people globally and to make a difference in creating a world where all people thrive through the transformative power of food and nutrition. Thank you!

We are together to be inclusive, to open doors, to break down barriers and to create an environment where all are welcomed and appreciated. Ours is a vibrant, innovative, caring community. In fact, we are the food and nutrition family. Welcome, family!

To all my friends, colleagues and special guests, here in Denver and watching online — welcome to FNCE®. I am thrilled to see you. And what an FNCE® we have in store. Great education sessions, great networking. And for me, FNCE® is also a celebration of our amazing profession and member organization. So let's hear it for us, all of us — the nutrition and dietetics experts!

You may have noticed that we have an international flair to our Opening Session this year. Our flags, our music and this dress. I'm so proud of this dress. Let me tell you about it. It was made for me by a very dear friend while my husband and I lived and worked in Ghana. Isn't this beautiful?

The entire world looks to us for our ideas, our expertise and our results when it comes to helping communities in all corners of the globe to achieve health. In turn, we draw on the world for ideas and opportunities to expand the reach and influence of dietitians, now and in coming years.

Now for some audience participation: We have attendees from about 35 countries and territories at FNCE® this year. Give us a wave! I would also like to recognize my dear colleagues and friends from Ghana who are with us today. Thank you and welcome one and all.

It's only fitting that our meeting represents food and nutrition professionals from around the world. Dietary patterns and nutritional needs are globally diverse. And our scope extends far beyond borders and boundaries.

You and I proudly stand at the forefront of global shifts, fostering international collaborations, sharing research and promoting a cross-cultural understanding of nutrition. The world is moving from traditional medical models to population health models, enhanced public policy development, food access and sustainability at a global level and incorporating technology to support practice and reimbursement.

In the United States and potentially in every country, we are paving the way for all of us to harness an infinite knowledge base and skill set. A global focus enables us all to become better-equipped to serve the unique nutrition concerns of people from every culture.

We are one profession, we are a global profession and we support one another. And together, we are improving lives across the world.

The land on which we hold this conference is the traditional territory of the Ute, Cheyenne and Arapaho Peoples. We honor their stewardship of this land throughout generations and we recognize the 48 Tribal nations with historical ties to what we now know as Colorado. Many government, academic and cultural institutions were founded upon exclusions of Indigenous Peoples.

The Academy is committed to dismantling oppression and inequities by recognizing the current and future contributions of Indigenous communities in Denver and around the world.

And now, if you're like me, one of the reasons you went into this profession was because you want to help others. Our work has a tremendous impact on the health and well-being of our communities.

Because ours is such a wide-ranging profession, we have many diverse talents and passions. Perhaps your talent is counseling patients. Or, are you an ace at enteral and parenteral nutrition? Maybe you are an inspirational educator? Or an effective manager? No matter where our professional strengths lie, there is a big world out there, just waiting for the talents you can bring to it.

Do you use your talent outside your professional life? One of my strongest core values is to use my talents to make the world a better place. Let me tell you briefly about some experiences I had, apart from my "day job" as a professor. I recently returned from Ghana, where for six months, I had the privilege of sharing my strengths. My primary emphasis was to assist the University of Ghana with its accreditation efforts, implementing ACEND's standards of education, training faculty and preceptors, and educating students.

I am happy to say that we are well on the way to accreditation, which will make it the first program in Africa to do so.

I also had the opportunity to practice each week at Korle Bu Teaching Hospital, the third-largest hospital in Africa. I worked side-by-side with dietitians in all areas of the hospital, sharing ideas and resources, presenting many educational sessions to the medical staff.

In the end, as so often happens, I gained more from the kindness and support of the dietitians and people I encountered than I ever gave. And that got me thinking about how many ways there are to extend ourselves into our communities, be it across the planet or down the street. Consider what you are good at. And think about what you enjoy.

Do you like to garden? Do you enjoy speaking in front of groups, in schools or in the media? What are the needs in your community? Are there foods deserts? Are older adults on waitlists for Meals on Wheels?

Then — find your fit. Lead a community garden in a food desert. Do education demonstrations at a food pantry. Volunteer with an after-school program teaching children about nutrition.

The options are endless. At the end of the day, ask yourself, "What can I do?" and then consider sharing your talents for a better world.

While I served in many volunteer roles for the Academy prior to becoming President, my nine years as an Academy media Spokesperson were a real highlight. I was humbled and honored to be part of an Academy program — a community, in fact — that does so much to elevate our Academy and profession. I see our current Spokespeople in the audience – hello my friends and Academy family! Make some noise and let everyone hear you!

Sadly, we are all too aware of the misinformation that is available everywhere today. And please know this: I am adamantly committed to promoting the facts about you and our profession, and to staunchly correcting misinformation. Believe me, we have many adversaries who want our credential to go away and who want nothing more than for us to turn on each other.

It's up to all of us to vigorously protect our credentials, our profession and our organization. We have worked too hard to earn our credentials and demonstrate our expertise and we will not retreat. We are powerful together and they know it.

I firmly believe the media provides the opportunity for RDNs to positively affect the health of society — by providing science-based information to consumers. Emphasis on the word "positive." I am troubled by comments we see expressed on social media, some of which are dietitian-against-dietitian. We come under scrutiny and attacks from outside our profession — and that's to be expected when an organization and profession are as high-profile and effective as we are. But attacks and incivility shouldn't come from within.

Now more than ever, it is critical to extend civility within our profession, to have open dialogue with others who may have different views and most importantly, to extend grace with professionalism to our fellow RDNs.

We cannot control what others say about us or the integrity of their motives. However, we do have control over how we treat one another.

Our credential ties us together, it makes us all stronger and it gives us a powerful and unified voice for good.

Ours may not be a perfect family — whose is? But we are a family.

Let's be kind, be professional, be respectful and be compassionate. FNCE® is a time for inspiration, to share special moments with those around us.

It's the lasting impression we make on the hearts and lives we touch here. Look around — these are the people who have a vested interest in you.

Everyone in this room believes in transforming lives through nutrition. Let's see our differences as strengths and be passionately curious. After all, isn't how we treat our colleagues a reflection of how we will take care of our patients and clients?

Our legacy is written by our ability to uplift others and to leave people better off than how we found them. We are better together and, now more than ever, the world needs us to be our best.

Communication is central to my professional values as well as my personal identity. And I believe it's vital in order to understand your perspective, your experiences and what is important to you.

You may have heard me say this, either in person or in print or on a video, I keep saying it because it is true — your voice matters and I want to hear it. That's why I have set as one of my top goals for my term as President to connect with as many members as I possibly can. I mean that literally. Let's talk!

Of course, I'm here in Denver until Tuesday and I hope between now and then you will find me at sessions or on the Expo floor or in the hallways or in the gym. And if we don't get a chance to talk in person, you can always email me at I read your emails and I will respond.

In short, Anytime, anywhere: I look forward to connecting with you. Let's work together to advance the amazing work that RDNs and NDTRs do each and every day on behalf of consumers, communities, our country and the world.

In April, the Academy concluded a comprehensive national search by inviting Doctor Wylecia Wiggs Harris to lead our organization as the Academy's new Chief Executive Officer.

A creative visionary, Wylecia is the ideal choice for the Academy. She has led membership, charitable and social impact organizations for more than 30 years.

Please join me in welcoming to the nutrition family our new Chief Executive Officer, Wylecia Wiggs Harris! We will hear more from Wylecia at the Member Showcase on Monday.

When I was living in Ghana, I had the privilege of visiting Dr. W.E.B. DuBois' home and museum. Dr. DuBois was a scholar and activist who used his talents as a social scientist and writer to advance civil rights for African-Americans and Pan Africans. In describing Dr. Du Bois, the significance of a web is often mentioned. He would form a network or web and make an impact that could continue even after he moved on.

For me, one of the best benefits of being a member of this great Academy is my network of friends and colleagues. My first "web" was the dietitians providing care to the veterans of our country. I practiced in the VA health care system for over 20 years and saw the cutting-edge care my fellow dietitians provided and continue to provide.

Among those VA dietitians, I would like to recognize two of my early mentors — who are no longer with us but have left an indelible mark on me — Dr. Anne Raguso and Anne Brezina.

I would also like to recognize one of my dearest friends, Dr. Sherri Lewis, whom I had the honor of working with not only in the VA, but on student research and in Ghana.

Sherri has been there for me, not only professionally but through raising our children, professional aspirations and much more. Thank you, Sherri! And let me give a shout out to all the VA dietitians.

My next web were dietetic educators. Those dietitians teaching and mentoring our next generation. As I started and directed several internship programs and a doctorate of clinical nutrition, my network was always there for me. I served as a site visitor for over 15 years and I must say, I always learned so much from my fellow educators as I conducted site visits. Being on the ACEND Board widened my vision of the selfless work of educators work to ensure the highest quality of preparation for our students. Thank you to all dietetic educators.

A big part of that web was also all my students. Teaching MNT to undergraduates, working with so many dietetic interns and then DCN students. It has been such an honor to watch you grow into the profession and become outstanding practitioners and leaders.

My next web was with the leaders of my affiliate. Florida has a rich history of great leaders, including Dr. Judith Rodriguez, Lucille Beseler and Dr. Catherine Christie, who I am lucky to call mentors. During my time in affiliate leadership, we saw the passage of a transformed practice act, which fueled my interest in public policy and advocacy. I was honored to serve on the Legislative and Public Policy Committee and to see the importance and impact of advocacy on our profession.

My web continued to grow, serving with fellow delegates in the House and eventually on the House Leadership Team, where I saw some of my greatest growth as a leader. And finally, I am honored to serve with our amazing Board of Directors, who courageously lead the Academy. And thanks to all of you who have been part of my web and mentored me along the way.

Every web needs a strong foundation and for me that foundation is my family. I am fortunate to have my mom, Lee Penman, here tonight. She, along with my sister Devon and I, have a very special story of discovery. I feel very blessed to have their love and support. And Mom, I hope I have made you proud.

Also here with me tonight is my husband, James. I call James "the perfect man" because he is a clinical psychologist who so gracefully navigates our journey together and he is also a skilled statistician who makes my research sing. In all seriousness, this is the man who sold everything and moved to Ghana with me, who loves my daughters as his own, who provides day-to-day care for my aging father and who patiently supports yet another one of my big ideas. James, you are my one in a million.

And finally, to my daughters — Meghan, Molly and Addie. I am so incredibly proud of you, your drive, your grit and your compassion. Meghan is a world-famous bartender and creative designer. Molly is completing her doctorate in biobehavioral health at Penn State University. And Addie is a clinical dietitian at the James A. Haley VA Hospital — working in the same position I once held.

For many years, it was the girls and me together, taking on the world. Girls, I hope you know how much I love you and how much you inspire me. I can truly say that the greatest gift and blessing I have had in this life is being your mom.

To all of you — thank you once again for this honor and privilege of serving you and welcome to Denver!

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