We need a role model right now.
A lot of people are stepping up these days, harnessing the current socio-political climate to fight for justice and equal rights. Many are showing us who they really are, for better or for worse. Even with all of these new activists and leaders, sometimes it just doesn’t feel like enough. It’s easy to be pessimistic right now. It’s hard to balance, to find stability in a world where norms are turned upside down. It’s like riding out a storm that feels unceasing.
I was at the post office and stamps commemorating Sally Ride were on display. She was born this month 68 years ago. It may seem like an unusual connection to make, but I reflect on her accomplishments and what she represents about an America that is difficult to recognize today.
Sally Ride was the first American woman in space, and the first queer astronaut, as well – as far as we know. (The Soviet Union, ironically, was the first nation to launch a female astronaut.) She is also notable for her work promoting STEM scholarship and education for young girls and women. Her name is attached to an organization that provides funds and resources to accomplish that goal. She is known for a feat that only a minority of human beings will, in our lifetimes, be able to accomplish, but I think her most important contribution to the world is what she has left behind.
It’s also hard to ignore how different the context of her career in space was to the one in 2019. Not only is our conception and attitude toward space very different, but the ideals she stood for as a national symbol feel dated and naïve. Seeing her stamp at the post office felt like a looking at a relic in a museum, a celebration of something that feels irrelevant but for a woman who deserves recognition.
Ultimately, I feel like her story (and continuing legacy) is one that is optimistic, if a little starry-eyed. We should continue to understand her as a role model, even if her civic function as a propagandistic tool is no longer relevant. (Though, there is reason to hope that new scientific role models are on the horizon.) We should look up at the sky.
Let’s try to ride this out.