Posted by Deneese Walia Levin on October 20, 2015 at 6:00 AM
Written by Amy Walia-Fazio and Deneese Walia Levin
It’s strange to write formally about our baby sister, Preemadonna’s CEO. From infancy, we dressed Pree in an array of ridiculous outfits, put her hair in barrettes and bands, and made her the experiment of our girl group trios. But we’ve also watched her grow up into the strong and smart woman that she is today, and are in awe of her tenacity. A larger-than-life laugh and a willingness to see the best in us define Pree.
She is intuitive, focused, and determined. Pree is a woman who sets her own definitions rather than being defined. She is hilarious, gregarious and charismatic, seeks to make others at ease, and can enrapture an audience with her voice and stories. And, in those same moments, she is quiet and reflective. She has a wicked intelligence—by far the smartest of all of us. And, yet, her nerd exterior is wrapped in the stylish confidence of the coolest girl in school.
Pree has had this remarkable ability to make friends in any situation. And, not mere acquaintances, but long-lasting, mutual friendships with other women. Pree’s ability to connect with other women stems from her genuine belief in the power of women to support one another. To lift each other up in the face of adversity or triumph. I have sought her advice as I have struggled with friendships and remember her words that guide me still today:
"Empowering and supporting other women does not diminish my own flame."
And, while Pree has had her share of heartbreak in her romantic endeavors, her female friendships have stood strong.
When I asked Pree to join me as a chaperone for a group of high school junior and senior girls headed to volunteer in post-Katrina New Orleans, I knew her presence and spirit would lift us all. She immediately connected with the girls, in some ways as a big sister, and in others a role model. But most importantly, as a really good listener. Huddled underneath the frame of our Habitat for Humanity house, hammering nails and installing insulation, Pree listened as the teenage girls shared dreams for their careers, hopes for “finding the one,” and the challenges of being intellectual and appealing. Pree offered her own insights and opinions: Women can equally embrace their beauty and their smarts. Why can’t someone love getting their nails done as much as they enjoy tinkering in the robotics lab? Why can’t you enjoy fashion and politics and technology? For so many of the girls on this NoLa trip, hearing from someone closer to their generation expound on the very dichotomy and dilemmas they face made sense for them. It was a “yes, you can be dynamic” affirmation.
Pree offers her stories without judgment. That’s part of her inherent attractiveness and charisma. She can laugh at herself, often with a loud unselfconscious guffaw (we hope the world gets to hear her signature laugh!) that has the entire room joining in.
She may call herself a Preemadonna in one sentence and in the next she will be heralding the virtues of the newest LED lights.
And that is the same boldness, honesty and ingenuity found in the mission of her company – to meet girls with cool technology that they are interested in – that we can all relate to.
Pree’s embrace of failure is one of the hardest things to come to terms with. As her older sisters, we have often taken more “traditional” paths in almost all aspects of our personal and professional lives. Even unconsciously, we often hoped she would follow in one of our footsteps; and in many superficial ways she has (joining the same sorority, going to the same university, moving to the same state after college, etc). But in the meaningful ways, she has wandered so far from our own paths, that we feared for her and the unknown path she has chosen, and the pain that we feared would lie ahead.
Having said that, Pree is an amazing role model for our daughters, her three nieces, in a way neither of us can be. She doesn’t take “No” for an answer and has taught them all that just because girls don’t do something, isn’t a good enough reason to stop trying, exploring, creating, or doing. Pree has shown them that falling down is part of life and the only way to really learn. Her only question after they inevitably fall, is what did they learn in the process. She has told (and shown) them that if they aren’t making mistakes, they aren’t taking enough chances and really trying their hardest. It is through Pree that our daughters have learned that every girl is more than just the sum of her parts - she is more than just a cool outfit, fab lipstick or a crazy mint green manicure. A girl’s caring about her appearance cannot diminish others’ ability to see her as a leader, scientist, creator, inventor - or even president.
Pree is unafraid and confident in ways that we cannot imagine. She has taken diving leaps on behalf of causes and missions (working on an Arizona Indian Reservation!!!) for which she is dedicated - from progressive politics to LED lights and now to bringing the Nailbot to life! She has a confidence beyond her years, knowing that the right cause or project cannot be turned away from. From her initial introduction to politics in Mississippi, I was always envious of the ease with which she found and followed her own path. Never fearful of making a mistake or choosing the wrong road, but confident that at the end of every path will be a turnoff to another better, more complicated and impactful road. Politics is not an easy sport - but it’s a testament to her character that she always deeply believed in her candidates and their stories, and felt confident in her decision to support them, even after disappointing election night results.
We are proud to be Preemadonnas.
-Amy & Deneese