Inspiring Women

 In honor of the United State of Women Summit: June 14, 2016

“Who is a woman that inspires you in your life?”

I paused, mid-way through the completion of my Ohio University Women’s Mentoring Program application, to ruminate on this question.

It was a good question, to be sure; I always appreciate hearing about the important individuals in the lives of my friends and colleagues. I believe answering about a person’s role models, their motivation, can reveal even the slightest sliver of an individual’s higher purpose. So, I wanted to make this answer count.

Names bounded through my head — but I didn’t select any of the celebrated feminists or empowering women our history books seem to remember most: Florence Nightingale, Clara Barton, Harriet Tubman, Cleopatra, or even Princess Diana. I respect all these women, absolutely — but I don’t know much about any one of them in particular, other than their mass-marketed claims to fame.

I started ticking off other, less celebrated women in my head — women still revered but arguably more obscure (and the ones whose mysteries I was drawn to as a child): Amelia Earhart, for her radiant enthusiasm and adventurous spirit as a female pilot; Rachel Carson, for her calm and dignified bravery and advancement of the modern environmental movement; Terry Tempest Williams, for her beautiful writings and inspiring activism; Margaret Mead, for pioneering the discipline of American anthropology; Elizabeth Gilbert, for her honesty and her memoir of self-discovery that helped transform my life in high school; Bethany Hamilton, for her undeniable courage in the face of tragedy and the power of her positivity.

I also thought of all the woman-characters in the books and movies I’ve read and watched — fiction or factual — that supplied inspiration in my youth: Hermione Granger (“Harry Potter” series), Tris Prior (“Divergent” series), Padmé Amidala (“Star Wars” saga), Katy McLaughlin (“Flicka” movie), and princesses Mulan and Pocahontas from Walt Disney Studios.

But even tallying those women in the list still couldn’t sum up my ever-expanding inspiration for the power of feminism and the beauty and diligence of hard-working women that surround me every day.

A thought occurred to me: Perhaps the real women in my life have more significance than the ones I read about or see on television.

The names of friends, colleagues, mentors, and elders circled my head like a swarm of butterflies: Connie Phillips, for her investment in education and her ability to illuminate early American English literature in my life — and my introduction to the healing powers of yoga; Jennifer Bowman, my first-year Scholar advisor, for impressively leading a cohort of woman-scientists in restoration of southeast Ohio watersheds and her ability to tackle numerous projects that I have a difficult time keeping track of; Kate Hiller, for her total domination in the journalism school, as well as her compassionate, caring, and globe-trotting heart; Gracie Keyes, for providing inspiration to me as a first-year Scholar and as a woman with confidence in herself, her body, and her decisions; Sam Miller, for her infectious enthusiasm and her buoyant personality that always makes me laugh; Andrea Wurm, for her ability to keep me grounded and help fight against my fears — real or imaginary; my professor Dr. Sabrina Curran and her overwhelming intelligence, her intimidating yet impactful presence in the lecture hall; Janice Brewer, for giving me the inspiration for my “specialized studies” college-degree path and proving to me (and my parents) that an interdisciplinary education at Ohio University is truly possible; Sharon Luke Holland, for her smile, her faith in me, and her resolve that everything will turn out just fine; and, of course, my mother, for her overflowing generosity, her tireless efforts at keeping my life and hers sane, and her overarching commitment to her family.

I could honestly continue peeling back the layers of women in my life who have helped shape, nurture, and guide this lotus flower blossom that I see as symbolic for the life I am becoming.

But instead of divulging into an endless stream of gratitude, I’m going to get back to work — just like all the women aforementioned taught me to do. Because the work here is not done, and we will not rest until we are equally confident in all of our abilities to tackle whatever challenges and obstacles come our way.

I am proud to be the daughter of so many women — women who have influenced me and inspired me in ways I could never have imagined. So thank you, universe, for gracing my path with these leaders. I only hope my energy, my work, and my passion inspire other women out there to keep on keeping on.

This essay also appears on Medium