Women who inspire: Reflections for Women’s History Month
For Women’s History Month, we’re pleased to feature members of our 2023 Springtide Ambassadors Program (SAP) as they reflect on women who have made an impact on their lives. For our final reflection, Christian tells how the support of a teacher at a key time in his educational journey continues to impact him.
GK was someone who came into my life at a time when I was entering unknown territory for me. I was a freshman at a private, Catholic university, a place that not only my parents haven’t been to but also not many people in my school – many of us were navigating college as first-generation students.
In my mind, I thought of educators as demanding, controlling, and sometimes scary. When I met GK, who was my instructor for a course on Cultural Literacy (which I wasn’t entirely sure what Cultural Literacy even was), I thought she would fit that description. But I couldn’t have been more wrong. She was someone who cared deeply and had a passion for meeting and helping students where they were at.
This is exactly what I needed, too. I came from a blue-collar culture, and my high school experience was more of a preparation for a trade versus college. When we started reading E.D. Hirsch’s Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know, I started to question the quality of my education because I didn’t know a majority of things in the book. GK stepped in and gave me the guidance I needed.
I tend to look at GK as an embodiment of what I wish every struggling student had in their life — a person who would sit next to them and extend their hand when you did not know it was needed. GK had a stern appearance, and as you worked with her, you’d wait for some sort of approval, but you’d never get more than a smile. GK wasn’t about external validation – she wanted you to acknowledge your own accomplishments and admit to yourself that YOU are proud of you. This was her way of helping you unlock your potential as a young adult in a very cruel world.
I recall one day during the muggy June weather of Philadelphia, I was coming home late after an eight-hour school day followed by an extra four hours of studying. GK gave me a ride home from campus because it was dark out and the buses were having 30-45 minute delays. On that ride home, GK was listening to the struggles I had in understanding her course, figuring out how I should discuss college with my family and where I could find what I later found out was called a ‘therapist’. GK gave me all of her knowledge, confidence and security on that 37-minute ride home. As she pulled up to my house, she patted me on the shoulder, unlocked the door and said to re-read the statistical article that she had assigned that morning. I remember that car ride as if it was yesterday. I often think back to the times where I was brought to tears when I would think about what would’ve happened if I did not have the care and support that GK gave me through that first year of college.
GK was physically disabled and would speak very little about her pain. When we asked her about it, she would remind us that the pain is very little compared to the joys she had of being present with us in the classroom. When she would check in with us, she would affirm our knowledge and remind us how far we’ve come from the first day of class.
GK was a very important mentor in my life that has continued to impact my day-to-day aspirations to become an educator, just like her. I strive to imitate GK in all the interactions I have with students I work with each day. If it wasn’t for GK and her presence when I was entering a new phase of my life, I would not be the person I am today.