I grew up surrounded by strong women. By this, I mean I had my eight aunts, 14 female cousins, an older sister, my mom, and my grandmas. Some common remarks when I tell this to people are, “Wow, there must have been a lot of drama,” or “Wow, how did you deal with all of those hormones?” While it’s fun to laugh about all of the craziness that went on in my family, I can honestly say that growing up around all of these women was the best thing that happened to me.
The females in my life have vastly different personalities and life experiences, but what they all have in common is that they are strong, independent, genuinely kind people. From growing up with them, I like to think that I’ve inherited these qualities.
I have a memory from when I was very young in which I was listening to a conversation between my aunts and my mom. They were coming up with ideas of what each of us kids would be when we grew up. I remember hearing one of my aunts say, “I see Karissa as the president of a women’s college one day.”
This was typical of the environment in which I was raised. There was never any question that I could be anything I set my mind to. There was never any discussion of the barriers that might stop me from achieving my dreams. I saw how successful and happy the women in my life were, and I heard their words of encouragement to me about how smart and hardworking I was. From this, I knew that anything was possible if you were dedicated, passionate, and kind.
When the time came for me to finally take the next step toward becoming a successful, independent adult, the women in my life were there to remind me of what I was capable of. When I started to apply to colleges, I limited myself to only looking at schools that I knew I could get into. However, when they heard my list of colleges, they emphasized to me that I wasn’t reaching far enough, that I was underestimating myself and limiting my possibilities. Since they had never steered me wrong before, I listened to them and decided to check out a school that I knew would be a reach. Of course, I immediately fell in love with it.
I was mad at myself for even looking at such an elite school because I was sure that now that I knew I desperately wanted to go there, I was even less likely to get in. But, true to their nature, my mom and my aunts convinced me to apply. They believed in me the entire way, constantly assuring me that I was going to get in, and because they believed in me, I believed in myself. Sure enough, that acceptance letter came, and you can bet that they were all by my side cheering me on.
It’s difficult to adequately convey how being surrounded by these women shaped me into the person I am today. What I can say is that having strong female role models as a young girl is invaluable. We need all girls to see that they have the abilities to be successful in whatever they put their minds to. They need to see other successful women who have earned their success simply through their own dedication. While watching these role models on TV or reading about them in books is great, nothing is more powerful than observing them in such close proximity each and every day of your life.
A couple of months ago I was driving my younger cousin home from school, and she asked me if I had a boyfriend. When I told her I didn’t, she asked, “Aren’t you worried that if you don’t have a boyfriend you won’t get married and then you won’t be happy?” I stopped at the red light, turned around to face her and said, “Listen to me now and remember this for the rest of your life. You do not need a boy to make you happy.”
I smiled to myself as the light turned back to green and prayed that one day she would have younger relatives to relay this message onto.
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