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Distinguished Alumnae Prompt Local Students to Share Aspirations and Admirations

Each year as the Women’s Center gathers faculty, staff, alumni and students to honor UVA’s Distinguished Alumna, we invite local middle and high school students and educators to join us as these inspiring leaders share the opportunities and challenges that have shaped their remarkable careers. When our 2020 Distinguished Alumnae, Nancy Howell Agee (Nurs 1979) and Marion Weiss (Arch 1979) were honored in an event hosted over zoom last fall, the recorded event was shared with local students who were then invited to submit essays on related themes. We are pleased to share their thoughts with you here. Special thanks go to Emma Terry, Georgia Meyer, and Tara Hackenberg, staff members from across UVA who lent their support to our Distinguished Alumna celebrations in 2020 as part of their participation in the University’s Cornerstone Program.

Diana Kim, Western Albemarle High School, 12th grade

What influences you?

My desire to leave the world better than I found it influences me. I am a stark idealist and realist in perceiving the world, which can be a headache as my idealistic ideas clash with my pessimistic realism. This innate desire within me influences me to make myself better and to make our world better for others. Why do I have this desire? I have it for many reasons.

My first reason is my younger sisters. Growing up in various places in the United States, I had encounters with people who were not accepting of my cultural background, which I had to manage and resolve at a young age. I didn’t want my sisters to feel that same sense of shame or disappointment in the world, so I did my best to let them know of worldly circumstances so they could combat them, taking pride in their cultural heritage. However, there is only so much you can do. They still came home hurt, and that enraged me. It drove me to do something more.

My second reason is the strong women in my life, such as my mother, and the many influential mentors who have guided me. I see their hardships in the bags under their eyes, and their advice to me echoes from their experiences--ones women should not have to endure. Women’s strength has carried humanity forward all these years of evolution and war. From a young age, I wanted to somehow make life better for women. While I did not have the  language for it then, I passionately wanted to dismantle the patriarchal and sexist standards. I wanted everything to be better for everyone.

My third reason for wanting to make positive change is for people like myself. People who want to make changes within their communities, to benefit everyone. The type of person who may not know everything, and may have a scrappy way of doing things but who lets their tenacity shine through. I want to help people who have that headache way of thinking, that clashing of idealism with realism in their minds. The person who always wants something more for others because they know it’s possible. I want to join forces, playing with the strength in numbers.

My ambitious desire to make life better for everyone is not an uncommon theme. I think we all have a little part of us that wants to do better. We just have different ways of going about it. And that is what influences me as well: the belief that everyone else wants it, too. What influences me is a culmination of the people in my life and my want for their happiness. The ideal belief that everyone deserves happiness has the unfortunate reality that the goal is nearly impossible. But even “nearly” hints at the possibility of success.

Zoë Shelley, Renaissance School, 9th grade

Who do you want to be when you grow up, and why?

When I grow up I want to be like my Mom. I know, so cliché. But I thought long and hard about this. I always adored my Mom; from a young age I would delight in any alone time with her. I know society tends to say that teenagers grow apart from their parents. But for me it was the opposite. The older I got the more I respected my mom, and was in awe of her. I didn’t realize how interesting she was, I didn’t realize how much Mom had sacrificed for me, and was still sacrificing for me.

Picture this. 4:30 am. Your alarm goes off piercingly loud in the peaceful house. You wake up, snuggled in stacks of blankets. You don’t want to get up. But you do. You throw off the covers and roll out of bed, facing the frigid air. Groggily you stumble into the bathroom, turning on the gruesomely blinding lights. No, you’re not getting up to sneak snacks; you’re getting up to go haul heavy weight for two hours.

Now imagine doing that five days in a row. Every week. That's what my Mom does. She competes in a sport called Strongwoman. The sport consists of weightlifting and different types of events, like truck pulls, weight runs, and slinging a sand-filled keg over a four-foot bar. Everyday I’m inspired by the commitment. Because that’s not all that she  does.

She has to take care of me and my two siblings. My whole life Mom has supported us through all of our insane interests and hobbies. She has done everything to make sure we have space to thrive, a space to live life to the fullest. Every weekend for two months, Mom and I would drive two hours to my swim meets. I swim the short events, the 50s and the 100s. So my Mom would literally sit for five hours at a time to watch me swim my handful of under-a-minute races. She would be there to support me, to give me strength when my negativity and nervousness got the best of me. She sacrifices so much for us.

When you ask people what their goals are in life, you get an answer along these same lines “I want to be successful,” or “I want to be the best at” . . . fill in the blank. I thought this was how everyone thought. And when you stop to think about it, it’s not the healthiest goal to be making. Achievement and success are fleeting, and there will always be someone better, faster, or stronger than you. But still, it seems to be what everyone wants.

My Mom could be a pro-strong woman. She has the strength and determination, and I know she would like to do that. But she chooses to drive me to my swim meets instead of going to more competitions. She chooses to pay for my school instead of more equipment. She gives up everything for her kids. For their future. And while she drives me to swim she does it with a smile on her face. She's happy to do it, purely happy. Because love is sacrifice. And sacrifice is love. And what other word can I use to describe my Mom, other than love?

And guess what? Mom doesn’t care that she's not the most successful person in her sport; she's happy with the life she’s living. She doesn’t get caught up in that worldly wrestle for success. Whenever I come crying to my mom, confessing that I’m scared I won’t get into an Ivy League school, or get a good job, or get a swimming scholarship to college, she tells me this: that I don’t have to be the best to be happy, or to be loved.

So I want to be my Mom when I grow up. I want to learn to be content with not being the best. I want to learn how to sacrifice. How to love like she does. My Mom’s early morning endeavors have made me, a competitive swimmer who attends early morning swim practices. So five days in-a-row, every week, I get up with my mom.

Sometimes I want to look the other way when I see someone sitting alone, I want to go be comfortable talking with people I know. But I go and talk to that person sitting alone. And now when I don’t get top three at my swim meets I believe deep down in my heart that it will be okay, because striving to be the best can sometimes be meaningless. And I see all these tiny things that have shifted in my life and I know—yes, I know—that my Mom is the one person I want to be more than anything.

Chloe Faulkner, Jack Jouett Middle School, 8th grade

What do you want your future to look like?

I want my future to show that I spent four years at a great health school and then became a successful EMT.

This year I applied for a high school academic program that emphasizes health and science. If I get into that high school I can get an early start on being an EMT. Monticello High School is the only high school in Charlottesville that offers health and science classes that are similar to what you would learn in college. For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to work in the medical field.

I want to start in that direction by getting a job this October, because in September I turn fourteen, and I’m looking to start saving money for college and a car. I don’t know where I am going to work yet, but I am going to start looking soon.

I want to get my learner’s permit when I turn sixteen, get my license and car when I turn eighteen, graduate from high school and go to college, and then become the EMT that I want to be. I want to live my life successfully.

Cameron Thomas, Sutherland Middle School, 7th grade

What do you want your future to look like?

What do I want my future to look like? All I really want right now and for my future is to be happy. Ever since the beginning of quarantine I have had a lot of stuff happen to me that has affected me mentally and physically. Since then my life has been pretty rough, but I have gotten to a point where I am starting to see hope and a bright future for myself. I honestly don't care where life takes me as long as I am happy. I have been working hard every day to try and get better, and every day is just another day closer to recovery. I tell myself every day that there is a good future ahead of me. I just need to make it out to see that. I wouldn't be able to think like this, though, without my cousin Emily. She gives me hope and inspiration every day that things will get better. She has helped keep me alive and where I am today. I have started to have a more positive mindset, and I truly believe that is thanks to the help of my family and all of the support they have given me. I can't thank them enough for what they have done for me.

Anaiyah Powell, Sutherland Middle School, 7th grade

What influences you?

I consider myself lucky to have someone determined and diligent in my life, someone so goal-oriented that no one would manage to ruin her plans. She has always been a beacon of resilience in my life, and I am eternally grateful for that. She is my caregiver and my rock. This woman has made me value the concept of reality, and the world for what it is. My mother has always been my symbol for hard work.

It may seem a bit clichéd, but I stand my ground when I say my mother is the very birth of my inspiration. My mother actually initiated my fascination with nursing. How? My mother tried for two years to have me, her third child. When I found out how long it took for me to be born, I decided I would help people who had problems similar to what she had. When I told her what I wanted to do, she looked at me with so much pride that I knew I would do anything to help that dream come true, for the both of us.

My mother is, in my book, the very definition of hard work. When my father had his surgery, my mother took the role of the official breadwinner. From that moment, our mother-daughter relationship faltered a little, but I understood. She had to go to work two days a week, and at one point, she had to go to school to get another degree for a promotion she was hoped to earn.

Even with all this, she has to pay my school fees, pay for our regular vacations and the money to be spent during those vacations. She may not have enough time to spend with me, but she always shows me what it means to be a woman. She holds a lot of expectations of me and hopes for a lot of things regarding me. She says it is because she told God what she wanted in a child, and she knows that what she asked for, God would provide. My mother feels the need to be a mother to everyone. She has a generous soul. A soul so generous that she puts people’s needs before hers.

Truth be told, I would have never discovered my love for medicine if it hadn’t been for my mother. I would have never understood what life could be like. She showed me what it meant to be in another world where no one cared where you came from. Yes, she was a bit skeptical when I told her that I wanted to go to a school that took over 10 hours to get to, but she knew that I wasn’t going to have fun and ruin my chance to make her proud of me. No, she knew it was to better myself and show that she raised a remarkable individual who would help lives everywhere.

I once told her, “Mom, you should stop putting so much pressure on me.” She answered, “You are my daughter. I know what you are capable of, and what you are not capable of. I’m not putting pressure on you. I’m merely informing you of what I know you can do.” After that day, I never complained when she “pressured” me. I would merely look at it as a source of encouragement. My mother is not the most original person to use as the basis for my essay, but to me, she is the true embodiment of an independent, great woman, and I am thankful she is so influential in my life.

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