Madeline Nowicki: This is for the girls

Saturday, July 30, 2016 - 5:01pm

I was closely following the convention this week, as a good, politically-minded student does. Blown away by the high-minded oratory and passion from the likes of the Obamas, Khzir Khan and Joe Biden, I began to get nervous for Clinton’s big moment. Her address to the world as the first female nominee was billed as “the biggest moment of her career,” which is a lot of pressure for anyone, let alone a noted introvert. In a sea of idealistic (and potentially unrealistic) expectations, Clinton represented incremental pragmatism. Not necessarily the aspirational, inspirational candidate we saw eight years ago. It seemed like so much was riding on this speech, so much which, in the past, Clinton was unable to deliver. And all I could hear was “Fight Song” looping incessantly and cloyingly both on television and inside my head. Both my nerves and my irritation grew.

As she entered the stage, beaming ear-to-ear and in a gleaming white — you guessed it — pantsuit, Clinton appeared confident, cool and ready. Her speech was relatively solid, not crazily awe-inspiring or laced with satire, but what did you expect from her? From the “texts from Hillary” meme to the role she took on as first lady, Clinton has always had the no-nonsense reputation of getting into the behind-the-scenes work. She’s known for meeting with Republicans while in office, passing practical bipartisan legislation in the Bush-era legislature and trying — sometimes unsuccessfully and sometimes incorrectly, but trying nonetheless — to slowly but surely change policy.

And then the camera panned over to the audience. In the corner of my eye, I glimpsed her. A girl, not older than 13, stood on the sidelines, gripping a “Stronger Together” sign, a big braces-filled smile on her face and her wide eyes behind frames, hopeful and glassy. That was when I felt the weight of this historic moment. Until then, I had been pragmatic about my support for Clinton. She was experienced and was winning, therefore I was going to get behind her. But when I saw this girl, coupled with Clinton’s line, “When there are no glass ceilings, the sky’s the limit,” I became filled with a love and an obligation to my younger self and to girls everywhere. I became enthralled by the history of the moment, and I became enthusiastic about Hillary Clinton.

This was the moment I realized that this night, this convention, this election, was for the girls. The girls who are told from age two, when their little brothers and sisters are born, that they will be just such a good mommy one day. The girls whose moms never faltered in showing what true strength and sacrifice looked like. The girls whose dads realized why gender equality was so important when they first heard their daughters’ minds at work. The girls who practice their class presentations over and over again because their voices are too quiet or too loud or too angry. The girls who are told to smile more. The girls who are told to let boys be boys. The girls who take the group project into their own hands, but share the A+ grade with everyone on their team. The girls who know that despite doing this work, they’re still paid less in the end. The girls who try so hard that they sometimes lose their way, but they keep going and keep searching and keep striving. The girls who sometimes have doubts in their abilities, especially when they are the only girl in the room, but keep working and learning and growing anyway. The girls who are told to ask fewer questions. The girls who are told that reading that much gives your eyes wrinkles. The girls who get angry when someone tells them to just take the joke. The girls who are scared that hard work won’t be enough to get recognized. The girls who are told that they can’t wear pink or they’re not going to be taken seriously. The girls who are told that they can’t play sports or be an engineer because they’re not going to find a man who will like them. The girls who train harder at practice, put in more hours at their part-time job, take time to comfort their friends and never, ever stop caring about what they can do for others. This is for the girls who have never had a woman to lead them, a woman to look up to, a woman to let them know that this it is truly possible to put yourself out there and actually win. This is for the girls who have never had a woman to lead them, a woman to disagree with, but a woman to represent the powerful apex of the nation.  This is for the girls who are now women, but deep down are still those audacious, caring, brave, hardworking, bossy, intelligent, thoughtful girls.

Madeline Nowicki can be reached at nowickim@umich.edu