“We are a circle of women,
Willing to care
Willing to share
Willing to learn
To be free.
We are a circle of women.”
Often in the first few weeks at Global Village Project, anyone walking the hall will hear this empowering refrain, now a staple in our Welcome Unit. From the first days on campus, students are enveloped in an environment that fosters their dreams in a way that also promotes and allows for the true strengths of women to be cultivated and grown. Caring, Sharing, Learning, Free.
I hadn’t appreciated until recently the profound impact that so many women have made on my life to make me into the woman I am today. Many of them were teachers in school that supported me at critical times in my life. Others were family members that inspire and encourage me to this day to reach for my dreams.
I’d like to start with my mother. I grew up in a low-income household, and after my father was laid off when I was in kindergarten, my mother had to take on extra work to ends meet. Getting up at 3AM for a backroom shift at Target, she was intentional to make it home before I did in the afternoons so she could always be there to greet me and my brother. She would listen to me talk about my day, what book I was reading(usually about dragons), and other elementary school antics. She was highly involved in our education, chairing the parent board at our elementary school for several years. She explored different educational options for her three children, and advocated for us when our individual needs weren’t being met. My mother’s determination to advocate for equitable education taught me that I could dare to dream of a world where each student has what they need to succeed.
My mother’s side of the family is matriarchal. Four sisters were born in a small town in Ohio about an hour straight south of Cleveland. One of those sisters was my grandma Vicki, who went on to become one of the first female hotel managers in Florida. I’m sure I inherited her independence and work-ethic. The oldest sister, my Great Aunt Luanne, was one of the first computer programmers (let alone woman programmers) in the 1960’s, founding her own software company Argonaut Information Systems in 1971. I can see her focus on learning and trying new things in my own approach to the workplace and life today. I could continue listing aunts and cousins for a while; each individual has made an impact on my life and who I am today.
I had several teachers in my elementary school who had a great impact on me. To this day I can rhythmically recite the spelling of my third grade teacher’s Greek last name, Tzortzinis, because that is how she taught it to us. We also sang happy birthday in 4-5 languages each time someone had a birthday in that class just because she knew how. I look back on that foundational class as a first step towards my undergraduate degree in World Languages. In fourth grade, I was bullied, and my teacher, Mrs. Barrett, pulled me aside to share that she had similar struggles at my age and offered strategies to overcome the situation. Her support showed me what it looked like to encourage and stand in solidarity with those who are forced to the margins of any social context in a very personal way.
My music teacher Mrs. Harding was perhaps the most influential teacher I knew in all my years of schooling. She wrote songs and created full musicals to instill in her students values of civic responsibility and personal empowerment. We performed a Core Democratic Values rap and sang, “I’m gonna be, all I can be, and you better know that you can’t stop me.” Her approach to empowerment and learning through performance was really difficult for me as an introvert and socially anxious kid, but I know I and many others gained confidence and knowledge from our participation in her classes and programs.
Altogether, I can see that these women – and several others I wasn’t able to mention – have made me who I am today, and in many ways are reflected in GVP’s Circle of Women refrain: Caring, Sharing, Learning, Free.
Through my work at GVP, I’m grateful that I get to take up and pass the baton of advocacy, empowerment, independence, and mutual support: to be a part of and to grow the Circle of Women.