I voted for Hillary Clinton last week.
I mailed her a letter yesterday explaining why. One letter won’t make everything all better, but I’m sure she’s getting a flood of them, and I hope the outpouring of support makes her smile. Here’s the one I’m adding to the pile:
Dear Ms. Clinton,
The year was 1992. I was 17, a senior in high school, and I was feeling conflicted. After two months as editor-in-chief of the school newspaper — a position toward which I’d worked diligently for years — I was beginning to suspect the job was more trouble than it was worth. I’d already had run-ins with a condescending school superintendent who assumed I was incompetent simply because I was young, and with several friends who didn’t understand why I couldn’t adjust deadlines to suit their whims. I was tired, burned-out, and ready to walk away from the whole mess.
I awoke one cool October morning to hear my mom’s voice floating into my room: “The Southern Illinoisan says Hillary Clinton is coming to SIU for a rally on Saturday.”
After a moment or two of Kermit-flailing and incoherent fangirling, I pulled myself together, picked up the phone, and made arrangements to attend the rally and subsequent press conference.
That press conference was life-altering.
From the time I was little, all I’d wanted was to be treated like a grownup. As a young reporter, I was rarely afforded that courtesy; most adults talked down to me, pressured me to violate my ethical standards, or exchanged patronizing “isn’t-she-cute?” smiles over my head.
You didn’t do any of that. I wasn’t even old enough to vote, but when I asked you a question, you looked me in the eye and answered it in exactly the same tone you’d used with all the other reporters. You treated me like a grownup. You made me feel respected. You gave me confidence. And in that moment, you renewed my enthusiasm for journalism.
With the exception of a few years spent teaching high school in Oklahoma, I’ve been at it ever since.
Without our brief exchange, I’m not sure I’d have stuck with it. When deadlines get too hectic, or editors get on my nerves, or the economy hiccups and I wonder whether it’s worth the low pay and the constant uncertainty, I close my eyes and remember a sunny autumn afternoon when the most powerful woman in the United States saw a kid doing a grownup’s job and treated her with respect and courtesy.
I adored you for that. You became my personal hero; I wanted to be just like you when I grew up. I studied endless articles about you. I bought myself a green suit and matching headband “just like Hillary’s.” I even showed up for senior pictures in an “Elect Hillary’s Husband” button.
I have never been more proud of you than I was Wednesday, when you stood, resolute but gracious, and addressed your supporters, still on your feet despite the vicious sucker-punch you’d just absorbed for all of us: the Suffragettes; the Second Wave; the girls who grew up watching Geraldine Ferraro and dreaming; the little girls my niece’s age; my mom; my former students; and all the 17-year-old girls trying to be grownups in a world that prefers to treat women like perpetual children, whether we’re 17 or 41 or 69.
I’ve long since lost that green headband, but 24 years later, I still want to be just like you when I grow up.