"Greatness of Character is formed in solving great problems."
Last week, the world lost one of its true women pioneers. Gerda Lerner, Professor Emerita of History at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, died on Jan 2 at the age of 92.
I was touched by the way the late Native American poet Paula Gunn Allen described Lerner. She said that she "understood the root of oppression is the loss of memory." For me, it is art which holds on to memory and records it so no one can forget. This is why artistic expression is often the first causalty of an oppressive reigime. Art is truth.
As a woman blessed with opportunities to chase her dreams without fear, the burdens of the oppressed weigh heavily on my heart. They remain with me in all I do, and I have documented the struggles of the dispossessed in my art as I travel the world.
I believe to my core that the empowered must do all they can to share the spark of potential with those who await their chance to be heard. This is why I am so inspired by figures such as Chancellor Angela Merkel, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and Gerda Lerner: their willingness to stand confidently in the public eye has made them each bearers of brightness for all women in need.
Chancellor Merkel has been a stalwart political presence in Germany since the late 1980s. Her fearless leadership and pragmatic perspective as the first woman chancellor in the country's history led Forbes to name her the world's second most powerful person--the first time a woman has ranked so high in their list. Her dedication to the welfare of her people and all of Europe brings me much hope.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is also remarkable for her great strides in putting women into focus. Beyond being a 'first woman' in many facets of her career, from her start as a noteworthy lawyer to her presidential bid in 2008, Clinton strives to put the interests of women, children, and families at the forefront.
The significance of Hillary Clinton's efforts to bridge dividing gaps of equality between people internationally deserves praise. I am very pleased to hear of her swift recovery from her recent health scare and wish her all the best, as the world needs her strength and vision.
Dr. Gerda Lerner and her contribution to women's rights should be celebrated: without her, the field of women's history would not exist within the academic lexicon.
After finding little representation of women in her own education, Lerner made it her mission to establish courses of study about the achievements of her gender, bringing graduate programs on the subject to several major American universities.
Lerner's work in piecing together the lives of significant women resulted in her election as president of the Organization of American Historians. This incredible teacher tirelessly pursued gender equality until her death. I know that her spirit lives on in the hearts of female students and activists everywhere.
Solely by having the courage to speak, these women set examples for those who aspire to achieve greatness of character. Their perseverance brings power and inspiration to girls waiting eagerly to inherit the earth, and I am sure that by walking the paths Merkel, Clinton, and Lerner have forged, it will be made a better place for us all. Let the hand that rocks the cradle help rule the world.