Can Women Have It All?
By Ann E. Shanahan '59
During her address at Smith's 122nd
commencement in 2000, the artist Judy Chicago suggested -- to
the consternation of many,
Vera Rubin, an astronomer best known for her research on the motions of gas, stars, and galaxies, suggested that if having it all means not having to make choices, then you can't have it all. "We all make choices in our lives, and I guess the right thing to say is that if you're lucky, you make the right choices. I knew I wanted to be an astronomer from the time I was a young child. I went to a girls' college -- not Smith -- but I graduated with the real belief that anything I wanted to learn I could learn. And that was very important. I really left with a lot of confidence. And I think that was one thing that enabled me to make choices that might have been rather unconventional, but my desire to understand this remarkable universe was really so great that there never was any doubt.And I did make choices but they were made easier by the support of the family. Very early in my career I learned that I didn't want to compete with astronomers who were really doing very forefront astronomy; it was too tough.I consciously made the decision that I was going to pick a problem that no one was working on so that no one would bother me while I was doing it." After two years of working that way, Rubin decided she "wanted a family and a happy family. I wanted everything that went with that. So I found something that I could do and hoped that when I was done, people would be interested in the results. I don't know whether that's having it all. Maybe it is, in which case I think that I've had it all!"
Wendy Kopp is the mother of a 20-month-old son and founder and president of Teach for America (TFA), which, since 1989 has placed more than six thousand recent college graduates in two-year teaching stints at some of the nation's most troubled public schools. Kopp quipped: "There's probably no one in this audience who wants to hear the answer to this question [Can you have it all?] more than my husband." Kopp went on to confess that she, too, has had to make choices in order to accommodate both the "sense of urgency" she has about taking TFA's effort to expand educational opportunity in this country to a higher level and her desire to have children. "I am personally just so passionate about and so fulfilled by what I'm doing. So far, I'm still making choices [but] I guess I just feel I couldn't be happier professionally and personally, and probably as long as that's the case I'm making choices that are working for me. I couldn't be doing what I'm doing without an incredibly supportive husband who is sharing the workload at home."
Diane Natalicio, president of the University of Texas at El
Paso, agreed that "passion is the right word. It seems to
me that in doing anything, the key is really how strongly you
feel about it and its importance and what it does in terms of
having an impact on something that's important to you. I think
that, for me, certainly education has been the key to all
Natalicio pointed out that the "all"
that one has is not always the "all" that one would
choose: "When I was a little girl, I wanted very much to
be a baseball player.That didn't work out. Actually that was
a terrible choice. What's interesting about that, what's very
important about it, is that I didn't get to make that choice
because of my gender. I had the best fastball in St. Louis, Missouri.
There was no doubt about that. But I never got to play because
I was a girl.So I think that there are choices that are made
for you, but my life has taken so many beautiful turns through
education that I feel as though the Texas Hall of Fame is just
as good as the Baseball Hall of Fame."
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