OPINION: An open letter to all girls
The future is female and it is bright.
You are the next generation of leaders in this nation and around the world.
You may become the first woman president of the United States, the first woman to coach a team to the World Series or Super Bowl or the first woman Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. The list goes on.
But know this — no matter your age, race, religion or gender — your voice matters.
You’ll find, just as I have, that it is not only your right to share your voice but your responsibility to do so.
Every time you speak up, you are standing up for what you believe in, breaking down a barrier and helping forge a new path for women.
2018 will be a year to remember for women across our nation. A historic number of women will appear on general election ballots in races for Congress and the statehouses. More women will appear on the ballot in November at the federal, state and local levels than ever before.
These women are white, black, Latinx, American Indian and Asian. They vary in age and expertise and they are shattering glass ceilings. They are writing a new chapter in American history.
You are also preparing to lead our nation.
Education will help to lead the way and has the power to change lives. When you have an education that expands your imagination, you have access to resources and knowledge that no one can ever take away.
I was a first-generation college student. I remember showing up for orientation and the first day of classes. Fellow students I had met shared with me the stories their parents had shared with them of how college would be. I could not relate.
Instead, I called my mother to express my anger and sadness. I begged her to drive to Massachusetts and pick me up. My mother said no, and told me to have a good night.
Being a first-generation college student from Coney Island was not easy, especially when Hurricane Sandy hit. My family lost our home and was forced to rebuild while continuing to find a way to pay for my education.
When I returned home for Thanksgiving, it was a bleak day. I saw the pain in my mother’s eyes and our damaged community.
That summer, I entered business after business in the Coney Island area, offering support and assistance to help get businesses back on track. It is because of the college courses I had taken and the education I was receiving that I was prepared to offer this assistance.
As I explored my community, walking block to block, I truly began to notice the display of wealth inequality. How could I be a 45-minute train ride from Manhattan, where some of the wealthiest people in the world live, while people in Coney Island are struggling to pay their bills and put food on the table?
In my search to fight economic inequality, I found politics.
The road to where I am today was long and challenging. Interning for the U.S. Congress meant taking on an unpaid internship. From 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday to Friday, I pursued my internship. From 6 p.m. to 11 p.m., I worked at Haagen-Dazs.
When I graduated from college, I was thrilled to intern on the Hillary for America campaign. This was another unpaid internship. I used my mother’s credit card for the summer, piling on debt. I had no income and no way to pay bills. But I knew that this sacrifice would be worth it.
No one prepares you for the sacrifices you will have to make or the hard choices that will come your way. I have sacrificed time with my family and friends. I have sacrificed relationships, putting my work first.
As I continued my career in politics and government, I found myself in situations similar to stories I had heard other women tell.
Women of color often have to work twice as hard because of their cultural background. Stereotypes and preconceived notions follow you into the business environment and entering new environments as an outsider means fighting twice as hard to ensure your role is not questioned.
I remember entering a meeting and being the only woman in the room. There were seven men in the room and me. The men all voiced their opinions as I sat and listened, unsure if I should provide mine. I certainly wasn’t going to be asked for my view or to offer my perspective. At times, it felt as if my age and years of experience overshadowed the high quality of my work in some minds.
I am indebted to the women before me who have fought to open doors and break down barriers, as I hope I can do for you.
But our work is just getting started.
The women who participated in the #MeToo movement are powerful and brave for sharing their stories. They are standing up for what is right and are doing so to create a better future for you. It is the hope that your generation will not have to endure inappropriate behavior in our culture such as the women before.
Women are often overlooked and underestimated, judged by the tone of their voices or the clothing they wear. I was once told I would never be good enough and was silenced if I tried to offer my opinion. I endured mental and emotional abuse from a man, hoping each day would get better but never did.
We are women and we are strong. We have to be there for each other. There are no second chances nor do-overs. But there are missed opportunities.
Girls — as you continue to grow older, keep your determination burning. Keep your hunger strong. No matter the circumstances, reach for something more.
Success comes to people for working hard — not for sitting on the sidelines.
—Liza Acevedo is the spokesperson for the New Jersey Assembly Speaker
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