So, I’ve been thinking about my school. Alumni weekend was a few weeks ago. This is my place of work, but also where I went to school. I don’t always advertise that overlap for any number of reasons, some reasonable, some silly.
One of the things we do on alumni weekend is to honor former graduates. The school is now a prek-12 co-ed day school, but it was at one time a girls’ school that included a boarding high school. So graduates from different eras attended completely different schools in a number of ways.
Two graduates who were honored this year gave me a lot to think about. One, a man who attended the school when it was still in its early co-ed years, spoke about the ‘women of the Shipley’, both teachers, advisors, and mothers of classmates and the incredible impact they had on him. It was great hear about the ‘women of the Shipley’ in such a positive way. It’s not that we are not positive about them normally, but having once been a girls’ school, we can get a little uncomfortable with focusing on the women. I appreciated how he just put it out there that it was the ‘women of the Shipley’ over and over who had such an impact on him. And, since he’s a guy, he can perhaps do this without there being any fear that he would be suggesting that we go back to single sex education.
The other speaker attended the school when we were in fact an all girls school. She and her sisters all attended, and she told of a proud tradition of empowerment, intellectual curiosity, activism, and Quaker values. (The school was founded by Quaker sisters, but does not identify as a Quaker school.) It is sometimes hard to celebrate the school of that time, for me, since it is neither a single-sex school anymore nor would I have attended if it had been when I was a student. However, I felt that this woman was someone in whose footsteps I am proud to follow. She, and a several other graduates who have been honored in recent years, stood out for me as solid feminists, not afraid of the term or the work. She didn’t rebrand feminism into girl power to make it cute. She and her classmates were, are, smart, and they knew it. They set out to live smartly.
I have never felt that I could put myself in that group—the footstep makers. Not for fear of being a feminist; I have no problem with that label, but for fear of not living up to the example. These people, mostly women, but now some men as well, remind me of that I can follow their lead.