Sydney Erhardt: GW students can look up to alumnae

“Here’s to strong women. May we know them, may we be them, may we raise them.” – Unknown

And may we look up to them as role models. The best way to motivate young women is to lead by example. Essentially, when young women see other women in charge, it makes them more ambitious and gives them hope that they can run the world – or in my case, succeed in a political career.

Massachusetts economist Esther Duflo discovered the so-called “Role Model Effect” when she and a team of economists traveled to 495 villages in the east Indian state of West Bengal. They found that in villages where there were female tribal leaders, the gender gap in education practically disappeared because girls set higher goals for themselves. On the other hand, in villages with no women in power, parents were 45 percent less likely to expect their daughters to go to school, and the girls were 32 percent less likely to have aspirations to go to school.

Even though GW is not a small village in east India, female students interested in politics still have women to inspire them – alumnae. Who better to inspire young women on campus than women who can actually say they’ve been there and done that? Whenever my career path feels stuck in a rut, I look for encouragement through the stories of three alumnae: Jacqueline Kennedy, who graduated in 1951 with a bachelor’s degree in French literature; Kellyanne Conway, who graduated in 1992 from the law school with honors; and Huma Abedin, who began studying journalism as an undergraduate here in 1994. These women have plenty of lessons to teach from their experiences, and my peers and I have plenty of lessons to learn.

When an internship doesn’t go the way I planned, I remember that things didn’t go exactly the way Abedin thought they would either. Abedin took a chance on an internship she almost turned down, but that internship put her political career on the fast track to success. Fresh from GW, she applied for a White House internship in hopes of landing a spot in the press office where she hoped she would emulate her personal hero, Christiane Amanpour. In a turn of events, she was assigned to the Office of First Lady Hillary Clinton. Abedin has since climbed the ladder from intern to “body woman” to deputy chief of staff and, most recently, to vice-chairwoman of Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign. She’s been aptly described as Clinton’s shadow. Because of Abedin, I’ll now think twice before I pass up any opportunity that has the potential to springboard my career, even if it’s in a direction I’ve never considered.

When I don’t get the recognition I think I deserve, I remember that Conway’s success has gone largely unnoticed, too. Whether or not anyone was watching on Nov. 8, a glass ceiling was broken. Conway became the first woman to run a winning Republican presidential campaign. And it’s likely her success won’t end there. According to Politico, Conway can probably pick whatever White House job she wants – she just might have to wait a few months to reap the rewards of all of her hard work during the campaign. But if Conway can wait for her pat on the back, then I can too.

When I need to be brave, I remember that despite the violent tragedy that ended her husband’s life, First Lady Kennedy faced the nation with strength and grace. After U.S. President John F. Kennedy’s assassination in 1963, Kennedy’s pink Chanel suit was caked in her husband’s blood. While flying back to D.C., her aides suggested that she “freshen up” and the Second Lady of the United States Lady Bird Johnson offered her a change of clothes. Kennedy refused and instead said, “Let them see what they’ve done.” Kennedy kept the garment on even through then-Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson’s hasty swearing-in ceremony. Through times of grief and great difficulty, I ask “What would Jackie do?” I’m reminded of Kennedy’s composure in front of a nation of mourners, and that gives me the courage to soldier on.

I can’t help but feel a great sense of sisterhood with Abedin, Conway and Kennedy as fellow women in politics and as fellow Colonials. I’m lucky that GW has plenty of female role models for me look up to because, in the words of the first American female astronaut Sally Ride, “You can’t be what you can’t see.”

Sydney Erhardt, a sophomore majoring in international affairs, is a Hatchet opinions writer. Want to respond to this piece? Submit a letter to the editor.

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