Sunday, July 2, 2017

Of education and worth

At the end of last semester, a professor I admire for her brilliance and insatiable appetite for knowledge, set up a meeting with me to tell me I should apply for PhD programs. "Not enough people take the time to pull smart girls aside to tell them they're good enough. It's because we're busy or we think they already know. But I wanted to make sure you knew." This is what she said to me. I don't know that I've ever had someone deeply acquainted with my academic work speak to me with so much faith. I will be grateful to that woman for the rest of my life for her kind words.

I think it's hard to be a Mormon woman sometimes and feel the weight of this paradox of education as the doctrinal reasons for education get lost in the cultural reasons. Reasons like "I'm receiving an education because my future husband might die" or "I'm not married yet so I guess I'll keep going to school" go against the doctrine of learning in the LDS faith. We learn because it's with knowledge that comes a greater capacity to serve those around us.

I still don't have very much faith in myself when it comes to what I can do with my education and that's why I was so touched to hear my professor say such kind things. Where those deep feelings of inadequacy stem from is difficult to articulate. I grew up and am still very much involved in a culture that celebrates women's accomplishments... but only as it's tied to motherhood. I think motherhood is a powerful good in this world. I will continue celebrate the sanctity of bringing life into the world and the honorable duty it is to engage in the daily tasks of raising children. But that doesn't mean I don't feel hurt when other Mormon women have told me that they're bored by the things I write about. Or when I've spent years of my life working on exhibits or projects and they just want to ask me why I'm not married yet. Unfortunately, they don't care about my work--my passions, my loves. And that has bled into my professional life. Why would I think I was worth going to grad school when I feel so inconsequential in the other large space of my life?

And so that is why I'm grateful for this professor. That's why I'm grateful for my parents, who are 100% supportive and celebratory of everything I do whether they agree with me or not. It's what makes me look back with fondness to the boss I had at BYU, one of the dean's of religion who told me he was proud of me and the work I've done. It makes me happy to be in a place like Laramie (who knew?) where I have a priesthood leader and institute teachers who make me feel like I have worth because they ask me about more than who I'm dating.

And lastly, it is these feelings and experiences I've had that made me grateful for this BYU devotional. In the speaker's words I felt celebrated and worthy. I just hope everyone listens to it and hears what she has to say. She does a far better job of articulating what I feel and wish I could say.


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