Like Christina, I am in awe of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. I deeply admire her tenacity, her brilliance, her guts, her persistence, and her work ethic. I mean, I pray to God that I can still be out there pushing for change in my 80s, just like she is. I have the same respect for Sandra Day O’Connor, who I got to work alongside in pushing for the passage of the National Alzheimer’s Strategic Plan.
Every young woman today should know these elder women’s stories. They should know what they were up against, what they endured, and how they charted their own path. Thank God many of those I admire have written their stories down in books. Gloria Steinem’s “Revolution from Within" is a must-read. So, too, are Eleanor Roosevelt’s books. And Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s “Gift From the Sea.” And Joan Chittister's "Called to Question."
I’ve always been intrigued by people’s stories—their struggles and their triumphs. I’ve loved learning about the lives of women like Betty Ford and Mother Teresa because their stories humanized them for me. These are women who admitted to struggling with issues of faith, purpose, addiction, and loneliness. Yet they pushed on, nonetheless.
My mother always made sure to talk to me about her own influences. Her No. 1 was Mother Mary, followed by her own mother. She was also influenced by Mother Teresa, as well as the mothers of children with special needs, who she met out on the frontlines of humanity.
She made sure I knew about all of these women and, when possible, she introduced me to them. She took me to soup kitchens, convents, and social justice rallies. My mother was adamant that I see myself as someone who could, and should, step into the arena. That's why she spoke to me about those who did.
I share this so you know that whether you are a mother, a teacher, a business owner, or otherwise, you have the power to inspire and influence those who are younger than you.
It’s important for young women to learn the stories of those who came before them. It's important for them to understand that life is filled with ups and downs. Joys and struggles. Purpose and self-doubt. Connection and loneliness. Knowing this to be true has been important to me as I’ve navigated my own life. It has inspired me to know there are many who have faced life and loss and still carried on. I stand on their shoulders, and so do you.
Tomorrow night, I will speak at a memorial service in honor of one of my real-life heroines, Mary Oliver. When she and I became friends, I told Mary that her poem “The Journey” changed my life.
Mary herself didn’t live a conventional life. She lived her “one wild and precious life.” That, to me, is humbling and captivating. I’m thrilled that so many women who stand on her shoulders will get to celebrate her life and work for generations to come.
That brings me back to the other women whose shoulders I stand on. I know I wouldn’t have the career I do, had it not been for so many women before me. I know I wouldn’t have the right to vote, had their not been women who fought for that right. I know I wouldn’t have been the kind of First Lady of California I was, had there not been others before me who paved the way.
When I speak tomorrow night at Mary’s memorial, I will thank her for paving the way for my own journey. This week when I’m working at the TODAY show in New York, I’ll also think about the legacy of Barbara Walters and what I owe to her. This fall as I continue fighting against Alzheimer’s, I’ll think of my mother and thank her for her hard work fighting for causes she believed in.
This week, I’m going to make a point of saying thank you—be it in person or in my heart—to all the women whose shoulders I stand on. After all, Cokie’s untimely death reminds me again that life is precious. It is fragile. That’s why there is no time like the present to thank those who have paved the way for us to do what we do, and be who we are.
Opportunities don’t just happen to us. They happen because someone pushed before us so that we could have that opportunity in the first place. They happen because someone else fought, persisted, and persevered.
This week, thank those whose shoulders you stand on. Honor those who came before you. Be grateful for those who paved the way for the life you have now. And, if you don’t know their stories, then ask them. Or look them up. Read about their lives or watch a documentary, like my daughter did. One of the best ways to honor someone’s legacy is to learn about it, and then carry their story forward in your life and in others.