As we celebrate the many contributions women have made to our history, culture, and society, we’re also looking inward, at Head-Royce, for powerful stories about women. We asked a few of our male colleagues to talk about a woman who inspired them––and as we pass the midpoint in Women's History Month, urge you all to think about the women who have influenced you. Read these personal stories, including:
- Logan Wallace on his four sisters, and young women of color, who have handled set-backs with poise and grace.
- Mikee Guzmán on Whoopi Goldberg’s inspiring use of her platform to speak up for those who have been silenced.
- Brendan Blakeley on the high school athlete who showed him girls got game.
- Paul Scott on a female professor who profoundly shaped his thinking and teaching.
Lower School Associate Teacher
Being a product of a matriarchy, every month is Women’s History Month for me. As such, it is hard to pinpoint one specific woman to highlight, given the profound impact that countless inspiring women have had on me. However, I can’t help but turn my mind to my four sisters.
I come from a big, working-class family, and as my sisters all went out "into the world" as adults, there was limited support and resources my parents could offer. This, on top of how hard the world can be to navigate for young women of color, made for numerous challenges. Despite the unfavorable odds, they have handled all of their personal and circumstantial adversities with grace and poise. They mean the world to me and inspire me more than words can communicate. Happy Women’s History Month Ali, Leslie, Stefen, and Sonya! I love you dearly.
Middle and Upper School Spanish Teacher
I cannot think of a single woman who has inspired me more than Whoopi Goldberg. Throughout her incredible career, Whoopi has always been someone who "walks her talk.” She uses her platform to speak up for those whose voices have been silenced, and most notably through her LGBTQ+, HIV/AIDS, Housing Justice, and Human Rights activism.
As a young teen, Whoopi mesmerized me in her role as Celie Johnson in The Color Purple, showing me that a BIPOC person who endured so much suffering, grief, and sadness could still reveal a smile and spirit that ignites your soul. She showed that a BIPOC person, conditioned to feel unworthy and invisible their entire life by people who denied them humanity, could walk away triumphant––not only embracing their flaws and imperfections but knowing that they still deserve to show up in their own lives, in their own way, despite them. Thank you, Whoopi, for the on-screen representation that has moved me and so many others, and for allowing us to see and understand ourselves better through your example, bravery, and vulnerability.
First of all, I grew up the only child of a single mother, so to say that I learned a lot from my mom is an understatement. She was the prime influence in my life. But as a Head-Royce alum, I wanted to share another story that stays with me today.
When I was in 8th grade at Head-Royce, I joined an after-school basketball class, which included just four people: myself, another 8th grade boy, and two 10th grade girls who played varsity basketball. The girls’ basketball coach designed the class to allow some extra off-season work on the court. Being a cocky and confident 13-year-old boy, I thought I was the best basketball player on the entire campus: be it boy or girl, middle or high school. I was looking forward to dominating in the one-on-one games.
One of the 10th grade girls was really, really good at basketball. Sleeve (her nickname) knew a lot more about how to play basketball than I did. Our first match-up went like this:
- Sleeve pump faked, I jumped, she drove past me for a layup.
- Next possession, she backed me into the post, executed a perfect drop step, made another layup.
- Third possession, she took me back down to the block, elbowed me in the chest, knocked me over, made another layup.
This went on for about five minutes. And, because we were playing a game called 21, the player who scored a basket got to shoot free throws. So each basket was followed by three straight made free throws. My recollection is that I lost the game 21-2. (As a side note, Sleeve went on to play at an Ivy League college.)
While my ego took a hit (apparently I was actually not the best player on campus!), this was the first moment I recall from my youth where I was able to realize how talented female athletes could be. At the time, there were little to no females seen on TV playing sports, and I hadn't seen many––if any––girls compete in person. From that moment on, it was clear to me that girls could have just as much game as boys.
Upper School History Teacher
When I was a graduate student at Cal, studying the history of Renaissance Europe, I dove head first into the scholarship of Natalie Zemon Davis. By the time I encountered Davis' work, she'd already had a profound impact on the entire field of European history, dating back to a series of essays she published in the 1970s. With her persuasive teaching and writing, she had pushed American scholars of Europe to look beyond the traditional narratives of Monarch and War and State Policy, the old Great Man Story, and into the lives and settings that generations of historians (and, yes, those generations had been overwhelmingly male) had overlooked or even disdained. This included sixteenth-century French peasants like Martin Guerre or a figure like Maria Sibylla Merian, a seventeenth-century German painter and naturalist, who produced beautiful drawings of tropical insects based on lore she gathered from the Carib, Arawak, and African women in Suriname. Davis, who's still alive and well today, wrote of history from the grass roots, you might say, where grand narratives are shattered or subverted and where deep and abiding meaning is generated.
I got to meet and talk at length with Davis when I was an impressionable student, a gift from the universe I've never forgotten. She underscored two themes that realigned my thinking back then, with consequences that continue to show up––surprising me as I relate to my work in the classroom and as I try to digest and respond to events like the Black Lives Matter protests over the summer of 2020.
The first theme is that no life is isolated because everyone is embedded in what Davis called braided histories, in which cultural (and ecological) threads reaching out over time and distance come together in connections that are as unexpected as they are beautiful.
The second is that ideological zealotry is a risky siren song, drawing one in with promises of clarity, power, and universality, but at what should be the unacceptable costs to complexity, diversity, and interdependence. We need one another because, very simply, we are one another.
Natalie Zemon Davis was the first person to teach me that. I suspect there might be thousands of history teachers all over the world who can say the same thing.