We as women have come a long way, but we have much more to accomplish individually, together as women, and together with all people, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, creed or other personal demographic.
In the spring of 2016, seven years after my mother’s passing, I finally gave myself the time and emotional space to go through some of my mother’s more personal things: her 2009 personal calendar, cards and other correspondence that she had received over the years, her black Coach wallet (which was filled to the brim) and some other odds and ends. Seeing her beautiful handwriting brought back so many memories of the care she took with everything she wrote - whether a letter to a friend, a greeting card or a note excusing my absence from school. My friends would always comment that my mom should create wedding invitations for a living! In going through her calendar, I was reminded of the care she took in making sure all of the relevant information she needed was properly “curated” and in the right place. Then, when going through the cards she had received over the years, I found a Christmas card she received not too long before her passing from someone named “George,” who had signed the card with “Geraldine, I adore you.” To know that my mother had an admirer and a love interest into her seventies before was among the most heartwarming experiences that I have ever known. Then, among the last pile of papers, I found a certificate - a certificate that, every day since, has reminded me of the amazing woman that my mother was, of all that we as women have accomplished, of all that we are capable of accomplishing, and of the all of the work we have yet to, and will actually, do.
Oddly enough, I realized that I had seen the certificate previously. The large lettering on the top of it was very familiar to me - “Michigan State Board of Education.” Though, I never really paid attention to the certificate, because I thought it had come from the completion of an ordinary course professional development program. Yet, this time, thinking of my mom and realizing that this certificate was something she had earned (however and for whatever she had earned it), touched and kept, I looked at the certificate very closely, and I saw, for the very first time, what it represented.
The certificate (pictured below) was (and is) proof of my mother’s GED, which she earned in 1975. As I was looking at the certificate, I realized that she was a single mom with two young children, my brother and me, without a high school diploma until she was 38 years old. Compare this to my own profile: By the time I was 38 years old, I had three post-high school degrees, including a Juris Doctor from Harvard Law School. The certificate not only represents my mother’s GED; it represents my mother’s grit; the certificate, when juxtaposed with my own law degree, represents the progress we women have made from one generation to another. The pride I feel about my mother’s earning her GED at 38 years old is something I carry (and will always carry) with me, and that pride serves inspiration for me every single day.
GED or not, my mother was the smartest, cleverest woman I have ever met; bar none. There was absolutely nothing that she could not make, create, put together, take apart or fix. Any time we needed a mechanic, a plumber, an electrician, a television repair person, a painter, a baker or any other handy person, we did not have to look anywhere but to my mother, Geraldine Frances O’Keefe Suber; to no one other than Geraldine Frances O’Keefe Suber. From the way she held her own with anyone and everyone, the way she negotiated and bargained for whatever she or her children needed, the way she solved problems or de-escalated heated situations - in each case on a dime, I had absolutely no idea that she had not graduated from a college or university.
That my mother did not have the equivalent of a high school degree until she was 38 no doubt contributed to her insistence that her children have the best education possible. In fact, my mother was up every morning at the crack of dawn to make certain I attended school every day, including getting to a magnate public high school in Detroit, Michigan. I will be forever grateful to the woman - a woman born of Irish immigrants and one of six children - who turned what may have initially seemed like a lemon - a GED without any other educational advancement - into lemonade (with a strawberry in the middle and orange slice on the side).
Perhaps what I am most grateful for is that my mother taught me the art of relishing the “left turns” in life, that is, to value every single experience for the lessons and/or successes it offers.
She also instilled within me the joy of figuring out ways to make the world better place and to do things in better and faster ways. Through all of this and more, she created for me an amazing “thought crucible” - a safe and rewarding place to intellectually explore anything and everything ... to think in new ways ... and to welcome the unprecedented and avant-garde. It has been through this “thought crucible” that, over time, my mother and I, together, have been able to achieve generational progress ... from a woman who earned a GED at 38 in 1975 to a woman who earned a J.D. at 38 in 2006.
I want every person - every family - in our wonderful, bountiful nation to feel as if they possess the ability to make generational progress - however incremental - that my mother and I have made. I want us all to help each future generation be better than we are ... to achieve more ... to solve problems that we cannot yet solve .... When each person - when each family - possesses this ability, we will indeed truly thrive as the great, diverse nation we are. This is the American Dream. Unequivocally, my mom represents the American Dream.
Thank you, Mom.