Sally Ride (1951-2012)
My niece got her long hair cut for Locks of Love recently, leaving her with a short and sporty new style. My brother was a little sad to see how short it was, but I thought it gave her a bit of the character that seems true to who she is. She looked like a nerdy scientist, and I love that. And she probably is a nerdy scientist of the future. One of those women I thought of was Sally Ride.
Sally Ride is a part of the mythos developed in my childhood. Our elementary teachers seemed very focused on several subjects that had been big events in recent history, such as the eruption of Mount St. Helens. I have that event as a part of my memory, even though it happened when I was only seven months old. It lingered as a talking point. Sally Ride did too, and with good reason. She went to space in 1983, when I was three and that timing allowed her to be an icon for my generation, an aspiration for the girls of America. She was an icon because of her achievements, not because of arbitrary criteria, and that was exciting then and it is still exciting today. I love celebrating people who have really accomplished something, especially when that something was so difficult.
When you’re a kid, being labeled can challenge that sense that we can all be whoever we want to be. Nerd is a label I’ve proudly embraced during my life, and I would hope others didn’t see it as an insult. It’s not. Being a nerd isn’t just about being smart, but about being passionate about learning and wanting to explore in detail the subjects that pique your interest. Being a nerd is about pursuing knowledge, and finding joy in knowing. It can be marked by great academic achievement, but it doesn’t have to be. My grades were certainly not amazing in school. What I hope my nieces, and my nephews, understand is that figuring out which labels to accept and which to reject is a part of the process. I’d embrace the nerd label though.