Ruth Bader Ginsburg is an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States and is fondly called the “Notorious R.B.G” from the prolific hip-hop front runner Christopher Wallace known as the Notorious B.I.G. RBG is well known for her fiery dissents and her landmark cases surrounding gender discrimination, women’s rights and access to certain socio-economic benefits for both sexes. She is the second female of four to be confirmed to the Supreme Court. While I watched the airing of her biography on CNN in early September I found it so inspirational especially because her entire journey to the Supreme Court has so many lessons not only for women in male dominated careers and environments, but for anyone who has ever had an ultimate lifelong goal. I found many parallels in her story that I could apply to my in graduate school.
Here are my key takeaways from her story:
- Always strategize.
Each of the cases that RBG took on in her early career was purposeful and maintained the same theme Each case was taken to highlight gender discrimination and how it affected our daily life in society. The lesson that I took away from this is that once you’re certain about your purpose and passion, deliberate steps should be taken to make this a reality. I knew I had a passion for Urban Planning. I also knew that my area of focus would always primarily be disaster risk reduction and recovery and how urban planning can strengthen disaster resilience. With that said, I didn’t even bother to apply to any other well-known Texan universities because they did not offer any type of specialization in Hazard Reduction and Recovery. I did this even when going to TAMU would require a four hour commute each day that I had classes. I was fully focused on what I wanted to achieve and knew TAMU was the first and most important stop along that journey.
- Find Your Tribe
It’s always important to have a person or a few good people who are willing to support you on this quest towards a major goal. In our case, its our graduate degree/s. RBG’s husband and family was the totality of her tribe. Her husband supported her while she pursued her legal career, especially in a time where that was unheard of. He probably suffered some amount of ridicule for that as well. He was however already convinced that he would support his wife and her journey to become a legal juggernaut.
We need friends/partners like RBG’s husband. Who support you not only with promises to help but actual support to achieve your goals. This can be time to study, financial help and even emotional support on a mentally exhausting day. Some graduate students, like myself, have either long term relationships, marriages, children, full time jobs or a combination of both. Pursuing a graduate degree may not be the easiest thing to do at this time, however nothing that comes easy is ever worth having. Stick with it!
- Staying Focused
RBG was without a doubt always focused on her lifelong goal of pursuing not only a legal career but a legendary one filled with advocacy and legal opinions which shift cultural norms in the United States. She pursued that overarching goal despite the many people doubted her abilities to do it or regardless of how many obstacles she faced. I’m quite sure she faced many as a lawyer in the 1970s as most law firms were not interested in hiring a female lawyer. She created a niche for herself by taking on gender discrimination and women’s rights cases and eventually became a Powerhouse. Our lesson here is that regardless of obstacles faced, we should be so focused that they do not prevent us from achieving these goals. If anything, these obstacles should cause us to pause, pivot, reassess and try again. It’s easier said than its done but it’s something we should always try and remember when we face obstacles over the course of acquiring our graduate degrees.
- Don’t be afraid to Dissent.
RBG did not mind disagreeing with the majority. And each time she wore her Dissent jabot we were reminded of that. Her dissents were poignantly written as she stated clearly and calmly her reason for taking that position. The main lesson is really to never listen to what everybody else is saying or pay attention to what everybody else is doing. We can never allow ourselves to be persuaded in to doing only what is seen as most popular or expected in determining our future academic and professional goals. Some people may see you through their own limitations and that is expected. But never be afraid to make your choices and defend them as calmly and clearly as possible.
Photo Credit: notoriousrbg.tumblr.com
Judanne is a masters student in the Landscape and Urban Planning Department