Yesterday, I arrived in Washington D.C. for the National Conference for College Women Student Leaders. After being greeted in Washington by an immediate hail storm, I have to admit, I wondered if Murphy was planning yet another vacation-from-hell for me.
I should have known better.
After all, Murphy is a man. He wouldn’t last ten minutes here. At a conference like this, there’s no man who could hold any of us back.
There is a kind of power here. It radiates from the concentration of strong, passionate young women at NCCWSL, enough to power a city. Enough to make me dizzy with hope and excitement; to light up my mind with possibility.
But this power doesn’t really come from the fact that we’re all women. It doesn’t come from the fact that we’re all intelligent or that we’ve all found ways to make a difference at our respective schools. Though we come from all over the country, in those ways, we are the same. And this power, this energy that I’m so drunk on…
It comes from our differences and our willingness to explore them.
That was made strikingly clear from the first moment of the opening session. Instead of simply giving a speech, the keynote speaker, Marsha Guenzler-Stevens, asked us all to get involved. She turned the tables on us. She didn’t tell us what feminism was — she asked us. She asked us a lot of things.
Do you think that, in your lifetime, a woman will be president?
Do you consider yourself a feminist?
Do you feel that you have ever been marginalized or discriminated against because you are a woman?
The result was amazing. Though we did not all share the same opinions, we did share the floor, the space, and the time. We considered one another’s reasoning. No one slung hateful words at the people who didn’t share their point of view. Quite simply, we listened, we absorbed, we shared, and we learned.
Just imagine if we could get congress to try that approach.
In every day life, sometimes it feels as if I’m talking to a wall. I go off on comparative social linguistics or start talking about language and identity, and people — at BEST — smile and nod politely. More often than not, they seem to simply tune me out. If I want to explore the intersectionality of language, disability identity, advocacy, and gender discrimination, I usually have to do it all in my head. (You all know already, of course, that it’s confusing enough in there without my having full blown debates with myself.)
Here, my words matter. Everyone’s words matter. Here, people want to hear what I have to say, and I want to hear how they respond. It challenges me to think more clearly and to incorporate new ideas.
Here, everyone cares about something. And even if we don’t care about the same things, we all care about each other. Here, you’d be hard-pressed to find apathy.
That is the kind of passion it takes to change the world.
Tonight, I had the privilege of hearing some amazing women speak. Women who have already used their passions to change our world for the better. I look at them and I see what I could become, what I could accomplish.
And in a way, I think they look at us and see that we are their accomplishment. They gave us this future. They lit a fire in us that won’t be put out.
It was a great honor tonight to meet and speak with these women. Natalie Randolph, the only high school varsity football coach who is a woman; Swanee Hunt, whose work with Bosnian War refugees nearly brings me to tears and is only one of the many ways she’s served us; Lisa Jackson, whose science skills are put to use leading the EPA; Marsha Guenzler-Stevens, who reminds me that working in higher education is absolutely worthwhile; and Connie Chung, who paved the way for women in media.
Connie Chung, as it turns out, is funny.
I am so glad that I got the chance to listen to her.
She challenged us all to take credit for our accomplishments. To stop being afraid to grab success with both hands. To laugh out loud. To persevere.
We will, of course.