As a woman, having trailblazing female heroes that I can look to for inspiration and encouragement has taught me that I am part of a movement.
Our female role models allows us to dream bigger than we thought possible. They show us that the world is malleable and evolving, and they ignite a fire inside of us to fight for equality and change. When we are tired, or scared, or face an exhausting challenge, they shine the light that helps us find our strength. And we push forward – not only for ourselves, but to honor them.
Then one day, if we are lucky, we rise up to become the new generation of heroes that our sisters and our daughters are searching for. The work continues from one era to the next.
Today, I want to name just some of the amazing women who have inspired me:
To Ms. Byczek, my forensics coach in junior high school: Thank you for believing in me more than any other teacher I ever had. In seventh grade you handed me a famous speech given by Shirley Chisholm in protest of the Vietnam War and said, this is your moment – make her proud. That decision not only helped me win countless forensics awards, building my preteen confidence, but also fueled my interest in feminism and politics. Thank you for seeing something in me that I didn’t see in myself.
To Shirley Chisholm, the first black woman elected to the United States Congress and 1972 presidential candidate: You opened my eyes to the power of a woman’s voice. At twelve years old, being trusted with your words was an exceptional honor – and learning about your journey, your passion, your bravery, and your ideas changed me for ever. You unleashed a young woman into the world who would always speak her mind. I carry you with me always.
To Geraldine Ferraro, the first female vice presidential candidate of a major American party: As a young girl in elementary school, I was captivated by you. Your voice and presence would move through the television set to fill up my living room. At that time I didn’t know much about politics, but I knew that I wanted you to win because you made me feel safe. In an election filled with standard bearers, you brought a perspective that was both exciting and comforting. I could see myself reflected in you.
To Sally Ride, who became the first woman in space when I was an eight-year-old child: Thank you for nurturing my interest in science and engineering. Watching you board the Challenger made me so proud to be a girl. In Ms. Clark’s third grade classroom, I could not wait to get my Weekly Reader to learn more about your work for NASA. Your adventures were my adventures.
To Ying Wang, my master’s thesis professor and research collaborator: You encouraged me to share my opinions and find my scholarly voice. With your help, I became a published writer – a dream come true. You believed in me, and walked beside me every step of the way. You were my teacher, mentor, confidant, and friend.
To My Mom: Woman, you are strong, soft, nurturing, and formidable. In the 1980s, you were as comfortable welding metal and “building stuff” as you were cooking dinner, and that was important for me to see. You challenged gender roles in our home. My daughter and I inherit our badassery from you (and yes, Merriam-Webster agrees that this is a word).
To Hillary Rodham Clinton, the first female presidential nominee of a major American party: Where do I even begin? Standing ovation. Thank you for never giving up. You are not only an inspiration to me, but you have become my daughter’s hero, and for that I can’t thank you enough. She is in second grade and because of your candidacy, she knows that women can compete for any role imaginable.
And to the countless women who get up and show up every day: You inspire me to do the same.