Teaching Opinion

Beauty, Brains, and Bucks: The Aunt Who Inspired Me to Believe

By Marilyn Rhames — July 10, 2013 3 min read
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On June 28, I called the names of 13 of the 40 eighth graders who walked across the stage to receive their diplomas. I wasn’t feeling my best, but at that moment nothing else mattered. I had spent the past three years as their advisor and teacher, and this was the moment we had all dreamt of: graduation. I even had the privilege of signing my name next to the principal’s on their diplomas.

Earlier last month, my aunt, who is the first female president of a health sciences university in Long Beach, California, had the honor of conferring over 400 undergraduate and graduate degrees. She signed each and every degree and took a picture with each and every graduate. She, too, was bursting with pride.

All my life I wanted to be like this aunt. Smart. Beautiful. And really good at something important. Though she came from modest beginnings in South Bend, Indiana, along with my mother (her sister-in-law), she modeled for me what getting a good, solid college education could do for you.

She wore such extravagant wigs; her face was always so vibrantly made up; and she spoke with such superb enunciation and diction that, as a child, I thought she was a movie star or an Ebony Fashion Fair model.

I started out in college as a pre-med student, trying to follow in her footsteps: she held a doctorate in nursing and worked as a researcher of genetic indices and physiological predictors of coronary heart disease and diabetes among premenopausal African-American women, as well as culturally competent interventions to stop the illnesses.

I remember when she came to Chicago to visit and over dinner I attempted to debate her on the ethics of stem-cell research. I had just graduated high school and was taking my first college biology class. She was a professor at University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) and was working to unravel the genetic code for the Human Genome Project. Despite this mismatch of intellect, she heard me out and was gracious in her disagreement.

I never made it past organic chemistry in college. I joined the college newspaper staff in my sophomore year and I fell in love with journalism and writing. I switched majors to pursue an English degree. I thought about how disappointed my mother, my aunt, and other family members who were encouraging me to be a doctor would be, but they weren’t the ones taking the exams! I felt like a failure at first, but then I got an internship at People magazine in New York and all the regrets went away.

After a seven-year career in journalism, I am now I’m a middle school writing teacher. I teach kids how to write and write well. I also get to sign 8th grade graduation diplomas—which is a big deal to a sentimental softie like me.

I don’t live in a breathtaking oceanfront condo like my beloved aunt. I can’t afford to buy a Prada purse like my fashion-fabulous aunt. I’m not running a university or the author of scholarly books (yet) or raising millions of dollars to expand educational programs like my brilliantly talented aunt. But I love who I’ve become, and my aunt is so proud of me.

On July 1, I was named the Educator’s Voice Commentator/Blogger of the Year. This honor is likened to the People’s Choice Award, as readers who follow my blog voted for me in mass numbers to receive a Bammy Award for excellence in education.

We will find out who the governors of the Academy of Education Arts and Sciences have selected as the Bammy Award’s Commentator/Blogger of the Year on September 21 during a red-carpet ceremony in Washington D.C. (I am hoping to attend the event, but I will be seven-months pregnant and unsure about flying.)

I take this moment, in my 93rd blog post over the past two years, to thank you, my esteemed readers, for supporting me with words of encouragement and challenging me with thought-provoking rebuttals.

I must also thank my superstar aunt. My whole life she has inspired me to be smart, beautiful, and really good at something important. I’m not bragging, but I’m told that describes me.

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