Dear Secretary Clinton,
It’s taken me a couple of weeks to formulate my thank you to you, but I’ll start simply: thank you for your grace, dogged determination, and searing intelligence while you ran a successful campaign for President of the United States. It was a successful campaign, and here’s why: You won the popular vote of the nation. You inspired countless citizens across the country to unite under the banner of a more inclusive and equitable dream of what America can be. You helped women across the world envision what it might look like to see themselves in power. The glass ceiling did not break this time for reasons far beyond your control (and which I will leave outside this letter), but as a 33-year-old woman who has admired you since the 90s, I feel it will break in my lifetime. And it will be because of you. So, thank you. Thank you for believing in us; thank you for fighting for us; thank you for living your incredible, boundary-breaking, history-making life. I hope you have more contributions still to come. America still needs you—now, in fact, more than ever.
This might seem unrelated to my thank you, but bear with me. Several months ago, my mother retired from the residential special education school in rural Wyoming where she served as the principal for more than two decades (I honestly lost count). Before that, she worked as a special education teacher in the state. My mom has always been an important figure to me in terms of providing a role model of what being a working woman can look like. My sister and I both went to graduate school. I am now a writer and editor and my sister earned a doctorate in psychology and primarily works with other women as a successful clinician. We certainly grew up with the message, implied every day by our mom, that there was no glass ceiling to our ambition or to our desire to make a mark on the world.
I learned something interesting from my mom after she retired. She was reminiscing about her early years as a principal. It turns out she didn’t think she could do it at first. She already had three young children and a spouse who also worked full-time. She worried she would miss out on our childhoods if she dove into such an intense job. But then she got wind of who else was being considered for the position and she simply knew, deep down, that the kids she cared about deserved better. She felt the call to serve. And she did. During my whole childhood, my mom’s colleagues were also in our lives as family friends. I babysat their kids; I listened on the outskirts of their conversations about students and teaching; I met my mom’s students at school events, in our home, and through the Christmas presents my mom and another passionate staff member facilitated every year. My mom is such a present and loving mom, but I’ve always been aware of this whole other world for her. The influence of that has been immeasurable. She has also inculcated in all of us the imperative to champion those whose voices aren’t always heard or acknowledged in the mainstream—for who is more vulnerable than a child?
During her retirement party alongside fellow inspiring educators and administrators (all women!), I got to know my mom the leader through the perspective of her staff. I learned how she led through kindness and compassion for everyone that she worked with. One long-term staff member and friend shared how my mom once saying, “I’m disappointed in you” impacted him far more than anything else she could have said. She built an environment where staff cared for one another and wanted to do their best, every day. I couldn’t stop crying. It’s an amazing experience, to think you “know” someone like your parent and then to see this whole other side of her, a side you knew was there and yet rarely witnessed firsthand as a daughter. You get to see your mom as a leader—smart and admired and capable and strong and relentless in her quest to do her best and caring and tracking down new research and guiding others through example while providing a safe place for some of the most vulnerable children in the state to learn and live.
When I saw you take the stage the night before the election and then again during your unbelievably graceful concession speech, Madame Secretary, you reminded me of that moment. You reminded me of all the selves we can be as women; the tension that lies between these selves, which is a tension that probably won’t be resolved, even when we gain the Presidency at last. Frankly, my mom will be embarrassed that I wrote this. She never did any of this to get attention or praise. She did it because she always knew she wanted to be a special-ed teacher and advocate. Then, she led because she saw the need and she knew she was the right person for the job. She would be the first to say, like you, that it takes a village. This is especially true of a school. Still, I thank her every day for the inspiration that ripples through my life to this moment. I can be all these selves, too. So can my friends and sister, who also inspire me every day with their unending intelligence and determination. Thank you for so selflessly putting so many of your own selves to the side because you felt called to serve our country. You made a beautiful sacrifice for us, and I won’t forget it.
It doesn’t matter who takes office in January. This is our world. A world of young people of all genders, ethnicities, and backgrounds who will not be stopped. We have inherited this earth and because of leaders like you and others in our own communities, we will make our mark, too. Yes, I want to be a mother and a partner and a daughter and a sister, but my power is not in my relation. It is right here within me, without condition or concession to any other identity. This power is your legacy. Thank you.