Two fiercely strong women raised me. They might not look like you’d expect. My mom and grandma were both businesswomen until they each had one daughter. Mom owned her own art gallery, and Grandma served food and worked the cash register at her husband’s company after World War II. They were recent college grads ready to take on the world!
Ever since my grandfathers used the G.I. Bill to go to college, higher education became an expectation in our family. My parents made sure I was enrolled in a top-notch, private elementary school, and my mom gave up her gallery to be home with me. We weren’t religious; school was our church. Every family dinner conversation began with “what did you learn in school today?”, and homework became a group activity, something that bonded the three of us.
In line with the college “track” I seemed to be on since age 5, I attended the best local all-girls institution for middle and high school, and between varsity and club sports and demanding AP classes, I was an extremely busy, competitive teenager.
When I got to college, I figured out that I could be more than an athlete; I was a singer, a feminist, a writer, a comedian, a museum curator. I was especially proud of my senior thesis, which was born from a conversation with my grandpa my junior year: “Did women qualify for G.I. Bill benefits?” He had no idea. In fact, no one had any idea (including most U.S. historians) – and yet 65,000 women used this incredible piece of legislation to further their educations and their lives.
Battling a narrative of women as homemakers in the 1950s, these female veterans, now in their 90s or older, demonstrated exceptional commitment not only to their education and career pursuits, but also to gender equality and women's empowerment. Moreover, many of them became teachers themselves, committed to giving back to their communities just as they had served their country during wartime.
I loved learning about the evolution of higher education at the same time that I was living it, and the project sparked this passion I have to tell the stories of people who have been forgotten. It also started to inform my day-to-day choices and how I began to see a career not as something I could compartmentalize from my personal life but necessarily ingrained in my human experience.
The women in my family understood these newfound values, perhaps because their work as primary caregivers was, by society’s definition, more personal than professional. Sure, my mom, grandma, and many of the women featured in my thesis led fulfilling, privileged lives, but they also fought against the stigma that parenting and caring for a family wasn’t hard work. It is hard work, and I am who I am today because they took their job so seriously.
Now it’s just my grandma, my mom, and me. And even when we fight and want to throw things at each other, we remember what our girl tribe has given us: friendship, empathy, power, gratitude, persistence, and self-respect. I’ve seen what happens when women lift each other up – we all get a boost – and that’s what I want for as many people in this world as possible.
One way I try to accomplish this mission is through supporting education, the driving force behind my own success. I work with organizations like KIPP Public Charter Schools, Boys & Girls Clubs of America, and Landed because they’re in the business of creating opportunities and upholding those who uphold us. Like parents, educators and community-builders deserve respect and support, and the Landed team is developing innovative ways to make their dreams a reality.