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The Official Baldrige Blog

Honor the Origins of Love and Leadership

January 5, 1962, Pinar del Río, Cuba photo showing the wedding of Michelle's parents.

Michelle's grandparents and parents on their wedding day (January 5, 1962, in Pinar del Río, Cuba)

Introducing Writer/Editor Michelle Peña

Picture a young married couple about to board the only ship that can take them, their infant son, and a second baby boy on the way to a life of freedom. They have just said goodbye to everyone they love and the only home they've ever known. The intuitive decision to sew their wedding rings into the lining of her bra the night before would become a tangible memory of that fearful moment when their suitcase, baby bag, and everything else they attempted to carry on was stripped away.

Photo of Michelle Pena and her two brothers.
Michelle and her brothers

Those people are my parents, who immigrated to the United States from Cuba in 1963. And their journey from nearly 60 years ago is really where my story begins. Because without their selfless love and leadership, life as my two brothers and I know it today would have been vastly different. 

Their path to the United States was made possible through a ransom deal after the Bay of Pigs Invasion, a failed attack launched by the Central Intelligence Agency in 1961 to push Cuban leader Fidel Castro from power and halt the spread of communism throughout the world. Castro’s militia captured approximately 1,200 of the 1,500 freedom fighters—among them, my uncle. Two years later, he was returned to the United States, along with many other prisoners of war and family members, in exchange for $53 million in food and medical supplies, donated by companies all over the United States, as a condition for their release.

Hispanic Heritage Month

In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, I’m grateful for the opportunity to share this snippet of personal history and introduce myself to the wonderful community of Blogrige readers and countless Baldrige Program volunteers who are so essential in helping us do what we do. 

I joined the Baldrige team as a writer/editor in July. I also spent many years before that with a media and training company in Northern Virginia, where I wore a few hats (e.g., graphic designer, editor, and digital strategist). 

The Baldrige Program's Mission

One reason I’m so proud to work with the Baldrige Program is at the heart of its mission:

“To provide global leadership in the learning and sharing of successful strategies and performance practices, principles, and methodologies.”

For those who question the origins of such leadership, in the words of Baldrige Fellow Dr. Veronica Muzquiz Edwards, CEO of InGenesis and a Baldrige Alumni Fellow, “We’re all going to face challenges, and it’s how we deal with them that creates leadership.” 

I could not agree more, whether we’re striving to improve the quality of life for our customers, professional communities, or families. Experience has taught me that we must lead with courage to navigate the unknown, make sacrifices, reframe challenges as growth opportunities, and create a safe environment where everyone can succeed.

About the author

Michelle Peña

Michelle Peña is a writer/editor for the Baldrige Performance Excellence Program at NIST. Her background includes degrees in English and Spanish from George Mason University, an advanced degree from George Washington University, and more than 20 years of experience in the publishing industry. 

Michelle is passionate about the benefits of personal development in the workplace and helping others become more emotionally resilient leaders in their community. Her blogs provide encouraging perspectives to help employees and businesses thrive and build a culture of continuous improvement.

As a digital marketing enthusiast, she also enjoys sharing motivational social media content and actionable growth strategies that professionals can use to empower their organization.

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Beautiful story! Thanks for sharing. I agree, excellence starts with love, continues with courage and results in a better world for us all.

Hello Michelle and welcome to the Baldrige family. Being an immigrant myself, I could relate and truly appreciated your article. I could not agree more that we must lead with courage to navigate the unknown making sacrifices along the way!

Michelle, "thank you!!" for the story of your parents bold effort to a life of freedom. Wow, this is no doubt a proud element of your family's heritage. I have enjoyed my association with the Baldrige community, only yesterday reminding myself of some of the origin-elements for the criteria being linked to principals from quality gurus Deming and Juran. Thank you, for your service as a writer/editor at NIST's Baldrige Performance Excellence program. DF

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