While I attended the DNC in Philly, I found myself thinking a lot about my son and my mother. My mother is a strong woman of her generation (born 1948). She’s educated, organized, and capable. And like women of her generation, she’s faced a kind of sexist garbage that’s well past time to end. How many times did my mom say an idea that no one heard until the man sitting next to her said it and got all the credit for it? Too many. But how many young men and women did my mom serve during her time at Penn State? And how many more did she serve when she ran Taste of the Town to raise money for people suffering from HIV/AIDS? So many. And much of it with few accolades.
She’s been a fantastic role model to me and now to my son. My son is part of the generation who will have seen two enormous changes in our vision of leadership and inclusion. Barack Obama was elected when he was just a year and half old. And now a woman is poised to be the next president. (Don’t worry, I’m not a sudden Pangloss for Clinton.) I’m excited for my mother. It’s momentous.
Leaving the DNC, I decided I’d write the following letter to my son. When he was in the womb, my ex-wife and I agreed that we wanted him to be social, curious, and kind. So sharing these family stories, thoughts on women’s history, and how important service is feeds into that. And he read it yesterday and decided we better store it someplace special so that when we miss Nana Joyce, we can read it and remember her.
Ya’ know, in the last few weeks, I’ve had some really special moments that made me think a lot about life, you, politics, and most of all Nana Joyce. So bear with me.
I’ve been really appreciating Nana Joyce lately. You know her as the Nana who makes you smoothies and cooks, helps you make paintings with watercolors, glitter, and hemlock cones, reads you books and watches shows with you, takes you to art museums, and plays with you, Heidi and the kids at the pool. She says, “Yes,” often but doesn’t indulge you when you’re a grouch. That’s not so different from how she has treated me by the way. She wants you to play, imagine, and learn, and she wants to take care of you. In fact, she wants to take care of lots of people. Not like a nurse, though she sort of did that with Buck. I mean working to get things done with others so that they have a better life.
The story goes that since she was young, Nana Joyce was a doer. She achieved. She was the valedictorian of her high school class. A valedictorian is the person who gets the highest grades in their school. As a farmer’s daughter and the seventh of twelve children she also had to garden, cook, and care for her younger brothers and sisters. She wasn’t just sharp and hardworking. She was also willing to be different.
She went to college and did something unusual for a woman of her generation: she earned a degree in Chemistry. Why, you might ask, was that unusual? In the 1960s women were discouraged from doing most things besides becoming secretaries, nurses, or teachers. They were even discouraged from playing full court basketball. Right? Let’s talk about women and sports another time. But definitely discouraged or kept from being scientists, engineers, lawyers, or politicians.
Sexist ideas permeated our society. They still do but most of them are diluted (that means watered down). A lot of people, most people even, believed that women were inferior to men in most ways. So despite the incredible accomplishments by Marie Curie on radiation, Rachel Carson in ecology, and Rosalind Franklin in biochemistry, people—particularly men—believed women shouldn’t become scientists (and those other things too).
Now I don’t know if Nana Joyce knew about those women (I’m going to ask her so many questions now!), but I know that she was smart, confident, and determined. No one was going to tell her that she couldn’t do something that she knew she could do. She did it. She got a degree in chemistry.
Eventually, she decided not to be a chemist. Instead she decided to work in education. She did that at Penn State where she earned a master’s degree. Along the way she met John Buck, became a teacher and a mother, and had a long career at Penn State. Every day at work, Nana Joyce worked with other people to make sure that students received the best educations they could get at Penn State and that they would be supported in making good choices. She did the quiet behind-the-scenes work that needs to be done.
Since she retired about 10 years ago, I can’t tell you how many people have said, “I miss your mom. She did (such and such thing) better than anybody.” Or they’d say, “I don’t know who’s going to help me now.” Or, “Your mom was the most helpful person I think I’ve ever worked with.” And these aren’t people just being nice to me. They said this because it was true.
When she retired, she continued to support people. For a few years she organized a big event called Taste of the Town. She and a team worked with local restaurant chefs and others to hold a dinner and silent auction to raise money for the AIDS Project. The AIDS Project helps men and women with a debilitating syndrome that comes from the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV). Many people with HIV/AIDS face troubles so it’s important for us to support them through the AIDS Project.
Nana Joyce wanted to support them and knew she could. So she led the Taste of the Town team for a few years and raised more money each year. In fact, she led it when they broke money-raising records for a couple of years in a row. How’d she do that? By being organized, informed, and by working well with other people so they could get things done. It is a very special gift she has, one that I try to emulate today. It’s hard to be that good. But I aspire. You can too.
Since I was at the Democratic National Convention as a Bernie Sanders delegate and the presidential election is going on (and on and on and on and on) right now, it’s made me think about Nana Joyce and Hillary Clinton. When I listen to Hillary Clinton, I see a woman who has worked with people in communities, in businesses, and in governments to get things done.
You’re probably thinking, “I’ve heard you talk about Hillary Clinton before dad…and sometimes it’s…tough.” Well, we will talk about that soon. (There’s a note at the bottom.)
Since she was a young woman still in law school, Hillary Clinton worked in Massachusetts to help poor children. She did the same in the Deep South trying to stop school segregation and ensure that black children could get an education as good as white children. As first lady in Arkansas, she worked on education while her husband Bill Clinton was governor. As the first lady of the White House in the 1990s she worked with senators to push for the adoption of children’s health insurance (insurance you have been on). As a Senator she supported the DREAM Act that would help students like my own. She has done many things over the years to improve our lives.
It’s really important that you know that it’s a big deal that a woman did those things. Why? Because just like people thought women couldn’t be scientists, they thought there’s no way a woman could be a senator, a governor, or the president. That’s about to change. And a lot of it is because of the really hard work that women of Nana Joyce’s generation did to “break the glass ceiling.” (I’ll explain that later.) They knew they could do things, knew that men were going to tell them they couldn’t, and said, “No sir, you aren’t keeping me down. I’m going to do it. I am and we women are going to do it!” And they did it.
So I just want you to know that when I see Hillary Clinton, I kind of see Nana Joyce (except the fracking stuff below). I see someone who’s sharp as a tack. I see a mother and a grandmother who’s dedicated to her family and her career as a servant and leader. I see a woman who knows how to get things done and then actually gets them done. I see someone who will work for you.
So the next time we see Nana Joyce, let’s thank her for all she’s done for us. And in November, I’ll thank Nana Joyce by voting for Hillary Clinton whose best qualities remind me of my mom.
p.s. You know that Hillary Clinton has supported fracking? Fracking makes people sick. It pollutes our air and water. It carves up communities. It carves up forests and meadows. It makes climate change worse. The money and power corrupt our government.
I am no less opposed to fracking today than I was five years ago. Until a lot of things change, my position will not change.
But I understand Clinton’s position and accept that I have to work to change her mind. Heck. Lots of Americans still support fracking. Secretary Clinton isn’t all that different from a lot of people; And I know some people, good people, who work for the fracking industry. And, like some of them, she is a big proponent of renewable energy. She wants 500 million solar panels deployed on American roofs during her presidency as well as pursuing climate goals under the Paris Agreement.
Now, contrast that with Donald Trump. He, as Noam Chomsky writes, “denies the existence of global warming, calls for increasing use of fossil fuels, dismantling of environmental regulations and refuses assistance to India and other developing nations as called for in the Paris agreement, the combination of which could, in four years, take us to a catastrophic tipping point.” That’s awful. Actually, awful is an understatement. Electing Trump would be catastrophic.
So with Hillary Clinton I don’t get everything I want when I want it but I have a chace to get in the door and make a difference. And fracking and climate change are hugely important. So we fight tooth and nail for as long as it takes to make it right. We persevere. Nana Joyce persevered. So will I.