My niece, my fabulous very nearly fourteen year old niece, won a statewide essay contest on the nature of community and the meaning of the concept of neighborhood. Today she read her essay at the annual conference of the sponsoring state and local government association.
To me, what means more than the essay that might inspire local government officials, or be shown to other students as an example of winning, or be passed around the neighborhood by the people who are the village who help raise Jax, is what this means to my family, because Jax's success reflects on me and will inspire my girls.
I have never been proud of what status we did (or did not) have. My parents earned very little, lived in poorer middle class neighborhoods, and could not provide higher education to us or even dance or music lessons when we were little. Education was encouraged but never assured to us. My family is full of genius but with little to show for it. My sister and I are the exception with graduate degrees each. We've always raised Jackie that she can do anything, and will do the same for Claire and Hannah. I hope they always believe.
When my niece met local officials at the conference today, she dropped my name as a professional they would know. But now I can drop her name when I see them next. At the city council meeting I'll say "and you've met my niece, who won the essay contest and wowed you all with her wit and confidence and poise." We will bootstrap on each other! My niece! And me! Both succeeding! I don't think she knows it, but she pushes my family out of the realm of "odds are they won't" to "damn straight they will."
I remember winning a prize or getting good grades and getting encouragement from some teachers who might reach out to a child of lesser means to tell her she could, should, and would succeed. I didn't always believe it, and I didn't care about it when I dropped out of school. However, I did go back to school. Those nudges to move forward in life can stay with you. And the people who know me and who know Jackie will now think we were fated to do well because we come from successful people.
So when someone, a President of the United States for example, or a teacher or neighbor or mentor, wants to encourage a child, let them.