By Jennifer Guzman

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Grace and Jennifer

When I was in second grade, I came home from school to see a neatly wrapped present sitting on our kitchen table. My mom told me she had a present for me but that I couldn’t open it until my dad got home from work. Hours passed and my dad finally got home but made me wait to open my present until he finished eating dinner. The suspense was killing me! Finally I was allowed to open my present and discovered a tiny box of baby shoes. My heart sank. Then rose. Then sank. Then rose again. Did this mean what I thought it meant? I immediately asked my parents and they confirmed my suspicions – I was going to be a big sister! I remember running around our small apartment, jumping up and down with pure joy.

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Jennifer and Grace

My sister, Grace, means the world to me. She’s my other half. We often get confused for twins although we are seven years apart. I still remember Grace’s transition from being a child to becoming a teenager and most recently to becoming a young adult. She’s transformed into such a beautiful and strong woman and although she is younger than me, she’s someone I admire. Grace is intelligent, funny, hardworking, kind, humble – the list goes on and on. I see many qualities in her that make me swell with pride and that give me hope for her future. Now that we are no longer kids (I am officially “adulting” while she is about to be a freshman in college), I realize how important Grace is in my life; my sister is my rock. She keeps me grounded, pushes me, and most importantly, gives me the confidence I sometimes lack. Grace is always there for me, unconditionally and without judgement, even when she disagrees with some of the choices I make.

In addition to my sister, I have gained tremendous support from one of my best friends, Jessica. Like Grace, Jessica is always willing to listen and give me advice (even when it’s something I don’t want to hear). She is someone who stands up for herself, who works hard and follows her passion, and who is incredibly strong willed. Through our friendship, she has imparted some of these qualities on me. She supports me in my accomplishments, whether it be school or work, but she’s also there when I’ve failed and have been down. Jessica helped me increase my self-confidence and she’s helped me realize my worth and the importance of looking out for myself as much as I look out for those around me.

I genuinely think having strong women around you, whether it be a biological sister, a best friend, a mentor, or a professional ally  creates a very important support system. I honestly cannot picture my life without these two women. I gather so much strength from them, more than they could ever realize. Throughout our lives, whether it is in school or in our professional world, I think it’s crucial to surround ourselves with these kinds of women. Women that we can be ourselves around, who lift us up, and who bring out the best in us.

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Grace, Jessica, and Jennifer

In the same token, it’s equally important to be that kind of woman to others. Listening to each other, accepting each other for who we are, offering support in times of need, having candid conversations about anything and everything, and being honest with one another are just a few small steps we can begin to take in our daily life to accomplish this.  And they can take place in a variety of relationships. As a workplace ally, we can advocate for women’s ideas to be heard during group meetings. We can challenge the double standard that men should be direct and to the point in the workplace while women should be understanding and helpful. We can look for opportunities to highlight and celebrate the accomplishments of other women in the office. We can encourage women to apply for new projects or positions. We can provide direct and actionable feedback. And regardless of our age or professional level, it is never too early to mentor another woman. We can serve as positive role models for young girls by challenging them to dream big, celebrating their successes, encouraging them to speak confidently, and helping them to develop leadership and conflict-resolution skills. Young professionals can mentor students with an interest in their field. And mid- to senior-level professionals can mentor a woman who is just starting out. The opportunities abound. Through them, I can only hope that someday I can give back to other women the same way that Grace and Jessica gave to me.

The B.A. Rudolph Foundation offers mentorship opportunities for those who would like to lend guidance to its scholars on entering and navigating their professions. If you would like to serve as a mentor, please email Kristen Hecht at Kristen@BARudolphFoundation.org.

Jennifer GuzmanAbout the author: Jennifer Guzman is from Little Rock, Arkansas and recently completed her Master of Public Service (MPS) degree at the University of Arkansas’ Clinton School of Public Service, where she became the first Rudolph Foundation Scholar in 2015. Since graduating, Jennifer accepted a position with the human rights team at Vital Voices Global Partnership as their Program Coordinator for Latin America and the Caribbean. Last summer she lived in Siem Reap, Cambodia, where she conducted an evaluation of the Lotus Kids’ Club, a program that uses holistic education to prevent future cases of human trafficking and exploitation among some of the poorest families in the region. Prior to her graduate studies, Jennifer worked at a local elementary school, where she taught French and Spanish to children ranging from pre-K to the fifth grade. She graduated summa cum laude from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock with degrees in International Studies and French. Jennifer is very passionate about human rights and hopes to empower people to help them achieve safety, security, and success.

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