Best graduation photo ever! I had just graduated from Wellesley in 1990 and the rebel in me, reacting to the media frenzy that surrounded our graduation, wore a sign on my back proclaiming that I was among those the press had labeled “just a pack of whining, unshaven, radical feminist spinster tartlets.” This small group of women graduating from Wellesley in 1990 had started the “Mommy Wars” (according to the international press, anyway).
Aside from the internal politics of how our commencement speaker was chosen, the issue being raised was not, as the media would have you believe, that we opposed Barbara Bush’s decision to drop out of college, marry and raise a family. The issue of concern was the question of how many women graduating from college (even Wellesley) in 1990 would have the economic stability to be able to choose to abandon their education, give up a career, stay home to raise a family without a job outside the home and still maintain that level of security.
In any case, Barbara invited her friend, Raisa Gorbachev to speak as well, and while the president of the college invited Hilary Clinton to speak two years later, still (after playing on both sides of the political fence) she wasn’t chosen for the coveted position of Secretary of Education. Our graduation was a media circus but we had a glorious day nonetheless.
And this is my graduation picture. This picture depicts a very special moment that day. One of my dearest friends, Maryann, had just given me a monogrammed pendant as a graduation gift. Engraved on the back were the words “You are enough.” along with the date. These words came from a poem entitled “You Are Enough!: A Woman Seminarian’s Story” by Nancy Ore that was published in Rosemary Radford Ruether’s book Womanguides. It is a poem about women being told throughout our lives that we are not enough, that whatever we do is not enough. From our parents to our spouses to our children, there is an underlying message that simply being who we are is not enough. And then there are the pastors who tell us that all of our work in the church is not enough unless we internalize all the guilt of humanity over the starving of children in the world. And the counselors who tell us that our only hope for sanity is to struggle with our demons, integrate our childhood traumas, stop crying, “clarify our poetic symbols” and not feel that we are not enough. While all those around us tell us we are not enough, we are also being told that we truly are not enough if we accept this. What hope is there?
The woman in the poem gives up and waits for death. When it comes, she finds herself “locked in deep blue pocket tomb.” But then, the voice comes to her saying “YOU ARE ENOUGH … naked, crying, bleeding, nameless, starving, sinful, YOU ARE ENOUGH.”
The poem ends with a resurrection image but for Maryann and for me and I suspect for countless other women who struggle with these messages everyday, it is this voice telling us that we are enough, no matter what, that helps us not give up. No matter if you are naked, if you are crying, if you are bleeding, if you are nameless, if you are starving, if you are sinful – YOU ARE ENOUGH!
My friends, YOU ARE ENOUGH! Listen to the voice.
P.S. — As each of Maryann’s sisters turned 50, she gave each of them a similar monogrammed pendant with the same words engraved on the back. And three years later, as Maryann was graduating, her sisters invited me to participate in presenting one to her as well. Unfortunately, one sister (the one who may have been deemed the most successful according to the world’s standards) did not survive long, she heard the words but still felt she could never be enough and she gave up. I must believe that for Sue Ellen:
And the third day
she sat up
asked for milk and crackers
took ritual bath with angels
dressed herself with wings
and flew away.
And again the voice came to her to reassure her of what she hadn’t been able to understand before — “YOU ARE ENOUGH!”