Next weekend I have a unique opportunity to reflect on how I’ve grown since my graduation from Muskingum College—now University—in 1991. My husband Nikhil Deogun and I will be delivering the undergraduate commencement address.
Needless to say, it’s an honor and a privilege, but also a big responsibility. After all, we want to impart wisdom, right?
We’ve had fun thinking back on the people we were 21 years ago, and the unexpected paths we’ve followed. We want to give the graduates advice about how to navigate those unexpected turns themselves, about how to find love, follow their professional dreams, and make a difference.
For me, the question of making a difference has also come from some unexpected places. Here’s a sneak peak at some of my thoughts for the Class of 2012:
I’ve learned that through mothering I can make my mark on the world as much as—and maybe more than—at work. Let me be clear: I love my work at the National Women’s Studies Association and find it meaningful. Highlights of my working life include planning a yearly national conference that features cutting-edge feminist scholarship. I’m also a leader in conversations about women’s issues outside of higher education: in 2010, I organized a meeting at the invitation of the White House Council on Women and Girls to discuss how feminist academics could help shape policy initiatives, and I recently attended a Department of Education-sponsored discussion about applying classroom learning in community settings.
Yet I’ve discovered that motherhood can sometimes be richer ground for expressing my feminist values, and for cultivating parts of myself, than the workplace. Our children, Maya—who’s 11—and Sameer, who’s 9—really want to make the world a better place. More important, they take action to make a difference. For example, Maya teamed up with friends to sell hot chocolate at our local sledding hill to raise money for a neighborhood soup kitchen. Sameer has spent time serving meals in a Newark homeless shelter. Of course, they’re normal kids who sometimes spend too much time watching Teen Nick and absorbed in their iPods. But when they notice inequality they ask questions and they want to do something about it.
Here’s the lesson I’ve learned: while you’re busy building your career, don’t forget about opportunities at home, whether those come in the form of parenting or other non-work pursuits. It really is true what you’ve probably heard from faculty already: you want to be a well-rounded person.
Now GWP readers, what advice do you have for the class of 2012? What unexpected discoveries have you made looking back on your life over five, ten, or 20 years?