As I reflect on this first week of Women's History Month, it dawned on me that I'm the first woman on both sides of my family to obtain a 4 year college degree. While there are others before me that at went back to school later in life and obtained an associates degree and others of my generation that have since obtained their 4 year degrees, as the oldest child/grandchild/niece, I was the 1st one to go to college right after high school and graduate from college with a bachelor's degree.
It's moments like this that make me wonder how, in this day and age, did it take until 2004 for a single woman in my family to take this path? I'll tell you how - Because every woman in my life was supporting me and encouraging me to do so, every step of the way.
I honestly believe that I'm the strong woman I am today because of the influential women in my life. In fact, I used to joke when I was a kid that I had so many "moms" that if I ever got married, they'd all have to walk me down the aisle. These women: great-grandmothers, grandmothers, mom, sisters, aunts, great-aunts and "adopted aunts" were always so supportive. They always pushed me to try my hardest and "do good" in the world. I was always taught and encouraged to dream big. I never wondered why they were so supportive or what their motivations were. But as I now mentor the young women and girls in my life, I realize why: Because I want better for the next generation - More ceilings to be shattered, records to be broken, and the chance to reach that equality goal.
Looking back on it now, it really is amazing how I got to college in the 1st place. My mom was a single mom with 3 girls. When I was a kid, we were on welfare, lived in subsidized housing and scraped to get by. When we were old enough to all be in school, my mom worked hard to go to college and get her associate's degree so she could support us. She worked hard and by the time I graduated high school, we had moved up in the world, living in our own house, that family members helped us work on to make our own.
By the time college application season came around, my tribe encouraged me to reach for my dreams and apply to every school I dreamed about. I applied to many schools and was accepted by each one - from the in state school to the $50k/year out of state engineering mecca. I dared to dream big but even with all the emotional support, there was no way I could afford college without monetary assistance. I ultimately decided to go with with the most affordable option - the in-state school - which was only made possible by the scholarships I earned, government grants I was awarded, and numerous part-time jobs I held,. In the end I even needed help from family/friends and some credit cards the banks are more than willing to give a college student in dire need (more on that another time).
Considering all the obstacles I had to overcome, it's amazing that I graduated. But I didn't just graduate: I graduated with high honors and had a job before I even walked across that stage. I've been blessed and I've never taken that for granted.
So, here's to the women in my life, who always encouraged me to keep learning, growing and to never give up. I will continue to pay it forward to the next generations as you supported me throughout the years. And to the women (and men) reading this, I hope you do your part to encourage the women and girls in your life to keep dreaming and never stop learning. Because as Nelson Mandela said, "Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world." And I've got big plans for change in store!
4 Generations of Women - Nana, Grammie, my Mom and me - 8th Grade Graduation (yes, I'm sure this is like one of those Facebook age-progression quizzes and this is exactly what i will look like)
Me and Memere - 8th Grade graduation - about the time I taught her how to balance her checkbook - something she said she could never figure out but that I was able to teach her as a kid
Me and Farmor - In case you can't read it, I'm wearing a hat that says "Future Nurse" that she no doubt got for me
The Wolfpack - my sister Samantha, me, my Mom, and sister Shaina - without them I wouldn't be who I am today
The Aunt Brigade - Great Aunt Laurie and Mom's Sister Missy - Who always encouraged me and took me on travel adventures, expanding my horizons and teaching me about the world