As a second semester senior I am constantly asked, “So what do you want to do when you graduate college?” Whether it’s my Starbucks barista, neighborhood manicurist, or grandmother who thinks I “prefer” women asking, I am forced to grapple with this question on a not so irregular basis.
In the midst of one such career-motivated inquisition this afternoon, I recalled a response I gave my second grade English teacher when posed with the classic “What do you want to be when you grow up?” homework assignment. While most responses in my class fell into one of three categories– ballerina, teacher, or doctor– mine defied the standard responses.
A bit eccentric even at age seven, I answered, “A unicorn.” I wanted to be a mythical creature, or as my teacher commented, I “wanted to be the impossible.” My fellow classmates, lacking filters as most children do, stared at me incredulously. I should note this was only the first of a series of life-long goals which would generate such vivid facial responses.
Nonetheless, I persisted. Not only did I want to be a unicorn, but I believed every one of my female classmates should strive to achieve unicorn status. Launching into an extemporaneous speech on the benefits of life as a legendary horned animal, I espoused a view that Slate and npr have since corroborated: Girls have an inexplicable connection or admiration for unicorns.
Though various theories are proffered as reasons for the relationship between young women and unicorns, including the infamous Lisa Frank designs, I believe the answer is generationally specific. As a daughter of a second wave feminist, I was born into a world where I could dream the impossible into existence.
Further, the father of Modern Zionism, Theodor Herzl, remarked, “If you will it, it is no dream.” As a woman and a Jew, I carried with me– though a prepubescent version of myself perhaps was unaware– a history of repressed people fighting for a voice in mainstream political discourse.
And as a result of their efforts, I can dare to be the impossible. I raise this point because this week I experienced one of those momentary liberal arts college-inspired panics where I believed I was completely under qualified, unaccomplished, and unemployable. In fact, I almost passed up a wonderful career opportunity in Washington DC because I thought, “What makes me so special?”
Aside from my rather unusual (and potentially unhealthy) relationship with a certain coffee establishment for which the Beloved Roommate now refers to me as a “special snowflake,” I realized this afternoon there was another reason.
When rethinking what inspired my second-grade unicorn answer, I neglected one detail. That same year I had entered a contest, for which my chances were 1 in 100, to win a piece of modern art. Despite my odds, I entered and won a lovely painting, which featured a certain mythical creature, front hooves raised proudly in the air. Said creature has since hung prominently on the wall opposite my bedpost.
I am special because every morning I wake up and see unicorns– literally and metaphorically. I begin my day by staring a mighty myth in the face and saying, “Here’s to impossibilities,” or as one Wellesley sister– Hillary Clinton– once phrased it, “to shattering glass ceilings.”