Monday, July 22, 2013

Ordinary Workday, Extraordinary Encounter

Justice Sonia Sotomayor and Sofia Bautista Pertuz at Fordham University
Last week I had an extraordinary encounter on an ordinary workday. As I was walking from my office to the restroom, one of my colleagues stopped me to ask if I knew that Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor was in the building where I work. In disbelief I ran to the location and asked if I could meet her. It was one of the most marvelous few minutes of my life. Not since meeting Mother Teresa as a teenager, have I met someone who has so profoundly inspired so many people by her leadership. This was an exciting opportunity to tell her in person how much I loved her book, My Beloved World.  One of my favorite lines right at the beginning in her preface highlights what a humble leader Justice Sotomayor is when she explains the measure of vulnerability that comes with her choice to share intimately about her personal life: “There are hazards to openness, but they seem minor compared with the possibility that some readers may find comfort, perhaps even inspiration, from a close examination of how an ordinary person, with strengths and weaknesses like anyone else, has managed an extraordinary journey.”

So what does this have to do with my dissertation and Latinas completing doctoral degrees? Not much, except that not so long ago, I was upset with myself for taking precious time away from dissertation reading to read her book. The guilt was tremendous, but I needed some inspiration and I found it in her memoir, which really turns out to be a leadership book if you read carefully and find the golden nuggets of life lessons in her personal and professional journey.  This shows that sometimes it's okay to take a break and read something else that inspires you beyond the articles you read for your own writing. Her life lessons and commentary about academia especially, were just as useful, gave me as much motivation and was time well spent.

So yes, I did tell her that I was working on my dissertation and that I was a doctoral student in addition to being a higher education administrator.  She was very encouraging and supportive.  However, now that I told her that I was going to finish and earn my doctorate, this means I have to do exactly that.  If I don’t, then I would feel like I was lying to her and you do not lie to a Supreme Court Justice, or any judge for that matter.  Wouldn’t that be like perjury?  I know that we were not in the court of law, but I'm going to just pretend that if I don't finish, then I would be guilty of perjury and no one wants to be accused of that, especially not me. 
Therefore, I will continue my journey with hard work as Justice Sotomayor put in to get where she is and with the support of my network and community that I appreciate so much.  That was a big key to her success that she constantly stressed in her book – the people who helped her along the way to get where is she is right now.  I hope the Facebook group I started recently helps to create this much needed network for all Latinas in this journey to consider, complete, or celebrate doctoral degrees:

I am a proud (and working on being a wise) Latina!

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Perseverance, Sacrificios and Gratitude to Turkey (the Country)

Sofia by the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, Turkey

     As I packed recently for a ten day trip to Turkey, I dedicated one carry-on bag to a few (okay, maybe more than a few) books I needed to read for my dissertation literature review. My husband looked at me incredulously and asked, “are you really going to read those on this trip?” I said, “of course!” I was actually not sure, but I put the intention out in the universe hoping I would find the motivation and energy.
     It was an amazing cross-county excursion with jam-packed days of touring major sights in Istanbul, Izmir, Cappadocia, Konya, Ephesus, and Urfa and yet, at the end of each day and long van rides, somehow I did find the energy to focus for a bit to read and write.  One very opportune day came when we took a 10 hour bus ride that was supposed to be 7 hours.  I knew this was one occasion when I would have no choice but to sit for hours. In her excellent book Writing Your Dissertation in Fifteen Minutes a Day, Joan Bolker shared that when she worked at Harvard’s Writing Center they joked “that the single most useful piece of equipment for a writer was a bucket of glue. First you spread some on your chair, and then you sit down.”  What better glue than to be on a moving bus for hours?
     Although some of my travel companions were not happy about this long ride, I was ecstatic! When you have a busy work and home life with 2 small children and an aging parent to attend to, there is no such thing as being able to sit for so many hours.  I am grateful to Turkey for not only giving me the best 10 hour sit down and focus opportunity, but also for the amazing food, historical perspective and an eye opening experience that proved to me that there is no such thing as “mainstream media” reporting only violence and protests in Turkey and not the regular, friendly, and peaceful day to day life that I actually experienced.  Sometimes you need to get out of your comfort zone, travel and see things for yourself.  I came back to the U.S. a better person with inspiration and many more pages toward a dissertation completed.
     So in my terrible Turkish accent, “Türkiye Teşekkür ederim!”  - translation: “Thank You Turkey!”