Shattering ceilings and moving forward.
A week ago, Hillary Rodham Clinton was officially nominated as the Democratic contender on the ballot in November — and I believe she will not only contend but succeed. For the first time in my adult life I have felt elated, emotional, and attached to a presidential candidate. To understand why, let me take you back a bit.
Fifteen years ago, I sat in a third grade classroom. I barely understood a great many things, but I had my times tables down like a fine art. I was encouraged, I was nurtured, and I was tested. I was tested through 9/11, a memory that is still seared in my brain. I was tested on reading, writing, arithmetic. I was tested in my friendships and my relationships. And it was my first memory of people asking me, “what do you want to do when you grow up?”
Like a vivid photograph, I can visualize the classroom where my teacher had written the lyrics to Brooks and Dunn’s song “Only in America” and hung them from the ceiling for us to remember each day the blessed country we live in. I recall the lyrics in particular that have always resonated with me —
“One kid dreams of fame and fortune
One kid helps pay the rent
One could end up going to prison
One just might be president.”
From that moment on, this opinionated little curly-headed girl stated boldly to any who asked that when I grew up I wanted to be “The first woman President of America.” In 2001, it was surprisingly still a novel idea to have a woman run for President — and be successful (though later in middle school I would amend that narrative to say that hopefully someone would beat me to it.)
Thankfully, now if I do choose the path that my eight-year-old self selected for me, I will follow in the footsteps of a woman I am proud to get behind this fall. Her tenacity, her mind for policy, her pragmatism and recognition that what is right is not always easy inspires me to be better than my best. Hillary Rodham Clinton — First Lady, Senator, Secretary, and soon-to-be President — has molded and shaped my own life in ways that my mother and her mother before her never had growing up. Just something as simple as seeing a woman successfully operating in the uppermost circles of politics is as inspiring as it is necessary. For every little girl like me who was told they were “too bossy”, “too sassy”, “too opinionated”, or “too loud”, we have a champion in HRC — as well as the rest of the DNC speakers last week.
Now we have Michelle — who highlights that one can be strong in femininity and a structured dress and pearls does not mean that you are not tenacious, fiercely intelligent, and brilliant. We have Elizabeth — who shows us that being opinionated and being firm in said opinions is a woman’s place. We have Alison — who shows us that in our little patch of God’s green earth in Kentucky, little girls should not be afraid to be strong, loud, and firm. And of course, we have Hillary, who has shown us that perseverance in a world determined to bring you down is a hard and long road, but worth it.
Beyond these lessons this week, I have also realized that it is important for us as women to lift each other up, to support each other, and to be a role model for little girls everywhere. We are all breaking ceilings and shattering expectations every day in our respective disciplines.
At the risk of sounding quaint and cliché, I am reminded now of Ghandi’s remark: “Whatever you do will be insignificant, but it is very important that you do it.” I would alter that to say that under the immediate microscope of reflecting on your actions, what you do is insignificant. You will not get applauded for negotiating a raise, for volunteering to speak, for walking the streets and knocking doors for candidates. You will not get praise for feeding the homeless, mentoring a young woman to be a community leader, or quietly funding a young girl to go to a reading or STEM camp. You will not get praise for a great many things that should be done — but it is so vital that we do them.
In closing, I am ecstatic and elated to live in a time where history is being made every day. I am empowered to continue the good work of Alice Paul, Sojourner Truth, Susan B., Gloria Steinem, Rebecca Walker, and a great many more. And, most of all, I am gently reminded in this moment, this historical moment, that I am someone else’s role model — as are other women. We are part of a larger network of women helping women across the disciplines and must continue to foster mentorship and a healthy environment of growth for each other. While we have shattered some serious ceilings this year and in the 2010s in general, we must keep lifting up little girls and young bright women everywhere, because while HRC made history last week as the first female nominee for a major party, she will hardly be our last.