June 3, 2015
I celebrated my birthday a couple of days ago. By anyone’s standards, it really was a lovely day – I was given presents, cards and delicious treats. I was taken to lunch and spent the evening drinking wine and watching some hilariously trashy television with a group of wonderful friends. Family members called and my Facebook page was filled with good wishes. My daughter sent me a beautiful video of her singing a song that would make anyone tear up. And yet, there was still something missing – a birthday wish from my mom.
It was something I could always count on. My mom was the one other person there for that very first birthday of mine so many years ago and she never missed one. I had no idea when I celebrated my birthday six years ago that a mere 12 days later I would be saying goodbye to her. She was there for my first breath and I was with her for her last. I miss her all the time, but my birthday is one of the worst days – and her birthday, which was just four days before mine. Of course Mother’s Day is just a few weeks before that. It can be a difficult time of year.
She was an amazing woman. She was one of the kindest people I’ve ever met. She never forgot a birthday, anniversary or other important occasion for all her friends and extended family. She was smart, funny and a wonderful cook. She loved my dad, her children, her grandchildren and all of her family fiercely. She was the gentlest of souls, yet she had an incredible strength. She bravely fought medical challenge after medical challenge with hardly a complaint. She faced more fights than anyone should have to, and yet she was stronger than she knew. She told me after open-heart surgery, “Oh, it’s fine. It doesn’t hurt that much.” I’m not sure she truly understood what a warrior she was.
But I do. I hope that I can be half of the woman she was. I wonder what she would think of the things I’m doing. Would she have been nervous when I traveled around the world? Would she be proud of the work I do? What would she have thought about her granddaughter studying overseas or living in NYC? Did she know what a role model she was? I hope to live as bravely and compassionately.
Gerardine Mukeshimana is another woman of incredible strength and tenacity. After completing her doctoral degree at MSU, she was asked to serve as Rwanda’s Minister of Agriculture and Animal Resources. She returned to her home country without hesitation and is working to rebuild the country still suffering 20 years after the genocide. One project she has worked on is creating the Woman’s Leadership Program to help women attain master’s degrees in agribusiness. Read the MSUToday FEATURE: When Your Country Calls, You Answer, to learn more about this inspiring woman.
Kristie Dotson knows all about the strength of women. She is a professor of philosophy in the College of Arts and Letters and her expertise is focused in the fields of epistemology (the study of knowledge) and black feminism. Watch the video FACULTY VOICE: Advancing Diversity in Philosophy, to learn more about her work.
Rylee Brower is a sophomore from Holland, Michigan, majoring in psychology and human development and family studies in the College of Social Science. As part of the Social Science Scholars Program, she was given the opportunity to talk with Ellen Cokinos, a mentor who helped her figure out what direction she wanted to go in with her studies. Read her STUDENT VIEW: The Impact of One Mentor, to learn more about how one woman helped another find her path.
Mentors and role models can be powerful forces in someone’s life. In my opinion, it’s especially important for girls to have strong women to look up to. With more than half a million Spartans out there in this world, there are some pretty incredible women out there making a difference. My mom was only a Spartan by virtue of me. She didn’t go to MSU, but she embodied those traits that all Spartans share. Spartans are smart, strong and compassionate and they face challenges with tenacity and grace. Go forth. Be strong.
Photo of me on the Great Wall in China by Kurt Stepntiz