“Hidden Figures” star gives speech at Microsoft

The crowd at Shetterly’s speech.
The crowd at Shetterly’s speech. Isabella Paxton / The Watchdog

On Feb. 24 at the Microsoft Headquarters in Renton, Margot Lee Shetterly came to give a speech directly before her flight to the Oscars, which were to take place that weekend. Shetterly has done many things with her life, beginning her career on Wall Street and then expanding out into writing books, but what she is best known for is writing her book “Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Woman Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race.”

Shetterly was raised in Virginia living near the three women who the story revolves around. Not only did she live near them, however, she grew up with them. Katherine Johnson – the woman who computed launch and landing of John Glenn’s orbits around space – taught her Sunday school classes when she was a young child.

However, she spoke of how she was “living next door and yet they existed in [her] blind spot.” Shetterly expressed her true anger and annoyance at living by these incredible woman all her life and yet having no idea of the exciting adventures they had experienced in their younger days. From then on she established the thought process of “Looking Beyond.”

Looking beyond was the idea of taking something ordinary and realizing its potential. Shetterly spoke about how almost everything had a story. Everything had a past and a present and quite a few things had a future, and it was up to us – the human race – to look beyond what was just on the front or the surface and to dig deeper, find something worth celebrating or acknowledging.

Looking beyond was not the only step, though. According to Shetterly, “looking beyond is our first responsibility but not our only.” Looking beyond is a part of a two-step process that is vital to human development and the second is to tell the stories one hears. Once a person finds something extraordinary it’s up to them to share it, to make the rest of the world listen if need be.

So many people showed up to hear Shetterly talk that a room prepared for hundreds of people was forced to have some stand in the back, and many more watch the talk from a TV screen on the floor below. The speech moved people of all races even though it was primarily about black lives and just how much they matter. One viewer who was lucky enough to make it through the door said that she “really zeroed in on the comment that she knew these women.” An attending middle school student even talked about how she grew up being the only black person in her class and that seeing the movie really changed her outlook on what she was going through.

Overall, people were impressed with the inspiring words that Shetterly said and she took all of the praise with a humble bow before leaving to go spend the rest of her weekend at the Oscars with none other than Katherine Johnson and the women who made her story known.