Winning Essay by Olivia B., The Ohio State University

It is a mother’s embrace that invites a child into the world, and it I my mother’s life that inspires me to make a difference. I look up to my mom who became a successful engineer despite racial and gender bias. Her life is full of stories that inspire me to live with purpose just like she has.

The ’80s were in full swing at Maple Heights High, a predominantly white school in Ohio. On a bright winter-almost-spring day, a young, intelligent African-American woman made her way to class. Everything was going according to plan that day, but her flow was interrupted by the news that she would not be honored as sole valedictorian at graduation. Instead, two white girls with lower GPAs would share the title with her. The school administration had met in secret to find a way to discredit her. Given my mother’s unparalleled achievements, it was obvious that the only thing “disqualifying” her was her skin color. Despite the confusion and indignance that came over her, she handled the situation with poise and dignity. Racial tensions had been brewing in the area for a while, and the other two girls loathed the idea of a black girl beating them. The uncovering of the administration’s plot would ignite a conversation throughout the school and the community. My mother’s family petitioned the courts — with the support of some and the criticism of others. In the end, she won.

From college to the workforce, her engineering career saw massive growth over the next 10 years. Whether she was a manager, quality inspector or professor, her competence was obvious. She then transitioned to married life and sacrificed her dream to be with her children during their formative years. Many questioned why she would do something so detrimental to her career. Upon her return to the field, her abilities were questioned, and she was forced to go the extra mile to get back to the work she loved. Being black in a predominantly white field was hard enough, but this was combined with gender biases as she returned to work. Regardless of people who assumed she'd “forgotten” her skills during her time off, she found a high position and picked up right where she left off. She continues to work in quality engineering at a multinational corporation.

Growing up with a woman like that will impact anyone. She instilled in me the values of education and excellence. She has raised me to be a leader and inspires me to follow in her footsteps. She has prepared me for situations where I might be the only African-American female and has shown me how to thrive regardless. In her life, the doors were not always open wide waiting for her, but they were left ajar. Nowadays, the doors of success are more open to black women than ever. The baton is being passed to me. I must excel, if not for myself, then in respect to those who have gone before me.


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