In her image: The empowering women who inspire us

Amidst the chaos of the 2020 presidential election and the entire current political climate, dominated by elderly white men, it is very important to be reminded of the power of the female voice. Most notably, with Kamala Harris becoming the first female Vice President of the United States, women are able to have a louder voice in the field of politics when historically they have been silenced.

As an all-female publication, the Plaid Press believes it is important to remind ourselves of the powerful women in our lives. Included in this article, are the stories of women from many cultures, ages, and backgrounds. We are inspired by their diversity of experience, their strength, and resilience in a patriarchal world.  

Melissa Spaulding, by the Plaid Press

“If your actions create a legacy that inspires others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, then, you are an excellent leader.”  — Dolly Parton

After countless edits and rewrites, we simply cannot explain what Mrs. Spaulding means to us. No amount of words can do her justice, but we tried anyway: 

In almost any movie or TV show involving school, there always seems to be one teacher that stands out from the rest; one teacher that helps guide the main character through whatever scrape or struggle they may be going through. Corey Matthews had Mr. Feeny, the Dead Poet Society had Mr. Keating, and Harry Potter had Dumbledore. Many students never have the chance to make such a strong and special connection with one of their high school teachers. Luckily we have been more fortunate than most.

The Plaid Press has Mrs. Melissa Spaulding.

In the last three years, she taught us how to write, how to use InDesign and Photoshop, and all of the ways to enjoy stuffing the newspapers with ads. She transformed ten eager writers into strong student journalists. 

While her great teaching skills cannot go unnoticed, what makes Mrs. Spaulding a truly inspiring woman in our lives is her infinite capacity for compassion and ingenuity. From the moment we stepped into her Harry Potter themed classroom, she has always been our biggest fan and supporter. She has pushed us to become better writers, not because it’s her job, but because she genuinely cares about us. For the whole staff, that means the world. 

On the days where we doubt our abilities as writers and where the world seems like it’s ending, Mrs. Spaulding has always been there to lift us up and help us see the light at the end of the tunnel. She has given us a safe space to be vulnerable and sad, or talk about Broadway musicals to our hearts’ content. We are a weird group, or as weird as any group of people who write for fun can be. But instead of silently judging us from behind her desk, she encourages us to be unapologetically ourselves because she truly thinks that we are cool people. Even as the monotony of the pandemic rolls on, she never ceases to make us laugh, smile, and be proud of the strong young women we have become. In her countless acts of kindness, she has taught us what it means to be a genuinely kind and caring person and friend; an invaluable lesson that we will never take for granted or forget. 

Mrs. Spaulding is more than our teacher. She is our friend. She is our leader. She is the glue that keeps the Plaid Press together. 

Thank you, Mrs. Spaulding for being who you are and for inspiring us to write and believe in a better tomorrow. 

My grandmother by Jennifer Liyanage

There are probably many women in my family who have lived inspirational lives that I don’t know about, simply because I’ve never asked. I had the opportunity to grow up with my maternal grandmother, however, so she inspired me directly.

My grandmother was the first person in my family to immigrate to America from Sri Lanka. Sponsored by a Sri Lankan doctor living in the United States, she was California-bound without knowing much English . She left my grandfather, mother, and aunt behind because they did not have their greencards yet. Essentially she was alone in a country she had never been to before, and so, she relied on courage and bravery to take control. 

Her first job was working for the doctor who sponsored her as a maid. This way she collected enough money to buy a home so that she could bring my grandfather, mother, and aunt to the U.S. She didn’t even know how to drive but would practice a couple of days a week taking the doctor’s children to school. She once told me she failed her drivers test three times before receiving her license, making me feel better about my fear of driving. 

A couple of years later, when the rest of her family arrived in the United States, she became a certified nursing assistant and bought a house. Then I was born, and even though I was young then, I still remember the minor details of her Duarte home very clearly. I remember the crowded family gatherings, my thenn teenage aunt’s German shepherd Maya, the crystal flower shaped lamp in the living room, and the endless collection of nightgowns my grandmother still owns. Even though she doesn’t live in the same house, so it is in a different kitchen, my favorite thing to do when I see her is sort all the expired food out of her fridge which she insists is still good.   

Since my grandfather’s passing in 2012, her life has been more difficult especially since she lives alone. She began looking after older people who couldn’t care for themselves and trying to fill the huge void his passing left in her. Even through her pain, she has dedicated a large portion of her life to helping others. In return I hope I can care for her in the future as she has done in so many people’s lives. I hope to become her successful doctor granddaughter, which she will brag about to all her old people friends in the senior living center.    

My mother by Nafina Raha 

I have had the honor of growing up surrounded by strong women, of looking up to women in the fields of politics and medicine and social activism, law and education and the sciences. Strong women have shaped my life, have inspired me, have shown me all the different ways that strength can manifest. But, despite this plethora of role models, when I think of strong women, the first person that comes to my mind is the first woman that I ever knew, my mother.  

My mother is one of the most inspirational women in my life. Her parents came from completely different worlds and cultures, with my grandmother having grown up in a white Baptist farm community in Alabama, while my grandfather was a Lebanese-Armenian immigrant from Beirut. She and her sisters faced the difficulties of consolidating their identities as children of two different worlds, and were often set as separate from both sides of their family, as kids of mixed backgrounds often are.

Growing up as the eldest child of three, she ended up essentially taking over the role of the parent when her parents divorced as she and her two sisters were left with only their father. She had to navigate teenage life under the patriarchal standards that governed their household, all while standing in as a parent for her two sisters, bearing the responsibilities of adulthood far earlier than she should have had to. 

She had to pay for college herself, working as a tutor. Since then, she has worked toward two masters degrees, one in world literature and the other in history. During and after the completion of those degrees, she worked as a student teacher at multiple colleges and universities across the San Fernando Valley. She has taught at College of the Canyons, Valley College, and USC before becoming a full-time professor at Moorpark College, where she now teaches world literature and humanities. 

She has always been a reliable, imposing figure in my life, intimidating but wholly dependable. She never was the typical American mom, pushing that role aside to become teacher, role model, coach, counselor, translator, chef, and mother all at once, stepping into any and every job that she needed to. She worked tirelessly to sculpt my sister and I into the people we have become today. She continues to stand by us and help us whenever we need it. 

In the simplest of terms, she and her efforts are the reason for much of the good in my life, and she will always be one of the most awe-inspiring figures that I look up to. 

My 8th grade teacher by Abby Ramirez

I have constantly been surrounded by strong women. Each woman I’ve met, from my mom to the other female journalists on the Plaid Press, has inspired me to persist and has shaped me into the strong, independent, driven young woman I am today. However, I can credit only one woman in my life for igniting my love for writing: Mrs. Jocelyn Estevez.

Mrs. Estevez has always had a passion for writing and reading. From a very young age, she had been inspired by her parents to write letters, enjoy stationary, and to fall in love with dog-eared paperback novels. She credits her Kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Lester, for her love of rhymes and whimsical words; for immersing her in the fantastic worlds of Dr. Seuss and others. By second grade, she began to read independently, and by junior high, she owned her own copy of “The Superior Person’s Dictionary” and wrote her own poems.

In college, she was empowered by her professor Dr. Holmes to excel at Pepperdine, despite being in the minority as a Latina. 

Throughout her life, Mrs. Estevez has learned and drawn inspiration from those around her, whether that be her parents, teachers, or writers like Langston Hughes, James Baldwin, and Pablo Neruda. Each experience and book has shaped her into the strong, inspiring Latina she is today.

After years of reading, writing, and studying, Mrs. Estevez became an English teacher, and a fantastic one at that. 

My eighth grade year, I had to jump through hoops to be transferred into her class, and to this day, I still can wholeheartedly say that it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. 

Mrs. Estevez exposed me to a world of literature and writing as well as to social issues and movements that I had never been exposed to before. She inspired our whole class to think beyond the page, to consider the real life implications of what we were reading. From Kurt Vonnegut’s “Harrison Bergeron” to Chimamanda Adichie’s Ted Talk on the dangers of a single story, Mrs. Estevez taught me the importance of looking at the deeper meaning and what it could mean for everyone, not just for me.

She was the first teacher to truly believe in me and push the boundaries of my writing abilities. For a melodramatic, emotional 13 year old girl, her encouragement meant the world to me. She inspired me to not only write, but to write with a purpose. She taught me the importance of words and empowered me to take them into my own hands and make them my own. 

Just as her teachers did for her, Mrs. Estevez shared her infinite passion for writing and reading with every student in her class. Her strength and fiery personality inspires everyone around her to think out of the box and plan their contribution to making the future a better place for the masses. 

My grandmother by Grace Mundy

I have been lucky to be surrounded by strong and inspirational women throughout my whole life. I look up to these women, and many of them have had huge impacts on me. However, when I think “inspirational woman,” the first person who comes to mind is my grandmother. She has had so many challenging experiences and journeys, but has never stopped being a loving and strong presence. 

My grandmother was born and raised in a mining town in Utah. Because her parents divorced during the Great Depression while she was young, she moved around and lived with different relatives throughout her childhood. She is the oldest of five children, so during this time she was a mother figure to her siblings, and helped raise them. 

One place she lived that has stood out to me, and that has had a large impact on her, was a small farm. She went to school with her siblings in a one-room schoolhouse, and learned the ins and outs of working on a farm. Here, she was able to utilize her resourcefulness and love for the outdoors, two of her traits I admire.

Eventually, my grandmother became a nurse. This career was very fitting for her, as she both loves to help others and is also an incredible problem-solver. She later left this career to became a mother, raising six children, including my mom. Over time, she had grandchildren, and even great grandchildren, all of whom she has played a part in raising. Growing up, I spent many days after school at my grandma’s house while my parents were working. Now, my grandma’s home is the hub of our family, a place of love and warmth and loud family gatherings. 

My grandma has always been there for me, whether through supporting me, or just having someone to talk about the newest television shows. She has taught that kindness can mean being strong and true to oneself as well. I admire the resilience and independence she has carried throughout her whole life. Despite being through a lot, she has never let any of her difficulties weigh on her. But most of all, she has shown me that there is no one way to be a strong woman. 

My halmoni by Katie Ryu

When I stop to reflect on the inspirational, powerful women I have the honor of being related to, quite a few come to mind. And among them, one woman stands out. Perhaps it’s due to the fact that I’m feeling extra sentimental today or because I’m missing her more than usual, but it feels right that I write about my awesome grandma who’s currently thousands of miles away from me, way across the Pacific Ocean.

My grandmother is 78 years old and is also somehow the most energetic person I know. There’s no one better fit to control a classroom full of tiny Korean children than Jeong Ja Kim. My halmoni is currently a working kindergarten teacher for a small school in Jeju Island of South Korea. She’s been a devoted teacher for various grades since she was 25 years old, finding great value in a proper education. She boldly fought for her job in a time when Korea was especially patriarchal and sexist, even more than it is today! When she wants something, my halmoni doesn’t really take no for an answer. 

When she was younger, she made trips lasting an hour and thirty minutes every day to and from school, raised two boisterous sons (one of whom being my dad), and endured the loss of her husband to cancer. I think the story goes that when she first heard his diagnosis from the doctor, she violently cussed once, and then composed herself right after. The doctor also recommended that she didn’t tell my dad and his brother, but she saw no value in hiding away the truth. She relayed the news in that forthright, no-nonsense manner of hers.

 My halmoni faces fear, struggle, and anything most people might shy away from head-on. I would think fear is afraid of her. She is ridiculously brave and steadfast no matter the situation. 

I haven’t seen her in-person for a few years now, but we make do with Skype calls and Kakao messages. Through those, I’m reminded of not only how blunt she is, but also how loving she is. During our calls, she makes sure to tell me how much she wishes she could come and visit. She likes to message my family adorable group pictures of her with her students, as well as photos of the stray cats for whom she lays our food. 

My halmoni constantly motivates me to work hard and be as strong as she is. She is a person who takes pride in being unabashedly herself, with all her varying traits and characteristics, and I think that’s something we can all be inspired by.

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My grandmother by Dveen Hagopian

My grandmother is undoubtedly one of the strongest, most inspirational women I know. Born in an impoverished village in Armenia in 1949, my grandmother grew up under Joseph Stalin and the Soviet Union’s rule. The Soviet Union was an extremely corrupt communist state that provided little to no resources to its people and had an extremely strict set of laws that were harshly enforced. Any practice of religion or expression of nationalism was strictly forbidden. Nevertheless, my grandmother and her sister practiced Christianity in secret, and refused to worship Stalin as those around them did. She learned five languages as a young teenager, which was very frowned upon by those around her, yet she continued to learn and educate herself. My grandmother would often rebel against the government and refused to let them dictate or control her and her beliefs, which is a true testament to her strong character. 

When my grandmother married my grandfather, they moved to Yerevan, the capital of Armenia, where they lived in a small shack. They had two kids, their youngest being my mother, and struggled to raise them with little money. My grandmother would often go days without eating, and the little food she could afford she would give to her children. My grandmother taught English to young Armenian students, and although her job did not pay well, she always said that the greatest reward was helping educate younger generations. Education has always been extremely important to her, and she values knowledge over anything else. 

When she was finally able to move to America with her husband and children, my grandmother faced many challenges. She was the only person in her family who knew any English, so they all relied on her to help them navigate their way through a brand new country. She spent her days at work, then would come home and immediately begin cooking, cleaning, and helping her children with their work. My grandmother worked tirelessly, taking no breaks or “me time,” as it is against Armenian culture for the woman of the house to ever prioritize herself. 

Ten years after moving to America, my grandmother’s husband unexpectedly died in a car accident, and she was left with two kids to look after on her own. She took on three jobs in order to pay for the small apartment they lived in. My mother often tells me of the times my grandmother would come home in the middle of the night after working all day, and although she was exhausted, she always did whatever she could to help and support her kids. When her son insisted on leaving college to get a job and help financially, my grandmother refused and encouraged him to go to law school. She never let her kids miss out on an opportunity to get an education, and frequently reminded them that money had very little value, and that it should never be prioritized over family and education. 

At 70 years old, my grandmother still constantly instills this lesson to her grandkids. She recently underwent brain surgery, but even that hasn’t stood in the way of her constantly providing support and unconditional love for her family. My grandmother has taught me so much about what is truly important and valuable in life, and I aspire to be as selfless, giving, and strong as her. 

My mom by Emily Garcia

My mom continues to inspire me because each time she goes through obstacles, she always comes out a better person. And she has had to overcome many obstacles, but she always fights her battles with me by her side and guides me along the way in life. 

My mom had me when she was pretty young. She is 39 now. It still surprises me that she could deal with taking care of me while still finishing school and managing for the both of us. I know that when my mom had to struggle in court in order to fight for me, it was very hard on her. She has also had to work countless jobs to put a roof over our heads and she provides me and my family with so much due to her hard work. Even later, my step dad didn’t have a job for a while so my mom had to work even more. Part of the reason my mom is such a hard worker is because she wasn’t born middle class and had to work her way up. She works has worked her way up the ranks at a bank. 

When it comes to her work, she is very stern and authoritative. Since she is the boss in her field, she has to always check others’ work and on top of that, do her own. She never complains about working when coming home, however, and always has a smile on her face for her family. Just being around her makes the room light up. She is truly amazing. She laughs at everything and is so generous with others, even without taking much time for herself. It is the little things such as when she makes us homemade meals almost everyday, takes us on trips and spends time going out with me and my sister, and just provides us with all the necessities in life that really makes my life a happy one. She is my inspiration and has been for many years because she is mindful about others, is selfless, and is a fighter and a hard worker. 

My grandma by Alina Issakhanian

Some mornings, in sunny Los Angeles as I take my dog out to my front yard in a simple shirt and sweatpants, I dance around to music blasting from my phone while he takes his time exploring the grassy field and sun-dried plants. Saying good morning to every neighbor that passes, I realize how free I am to do what I want. I can dress how I please and simply exist without any real concern on my mind. All of this would not have been possible without the strength and perseverance of my grandmother. 

My grandma, Jenik Pilikian Fereduni, was born to a working-class family in 1939, in Abadan, Iran, pre-Islamic revolution. In her adolescence, she would take care of her neighborhood’s children, helping them get home after school and sewing clothes for them. After she graduated from high school, she worked as a nurse in the burn unit of a hospital, one of the few jobs women were expected to get. She eventually realized that it wasn’t a good fit for her and took a job with an oil company. 

My mom always describes my grandma to be tough. Her husband, my grandfather, died unexpectedly when my mom was just five years old. After his death my grandma took it upon herself to raise two kids in a culture that often looked down upon widows, with a mother-in-law that beat her and blamed her for my grandfather’s death. Nevertheless, she would still visit her mother-in-law and take her kids along because she believed in a strong family foundation. 

In a culture with no mercy on widows, with a family that had no means to support her, and being the only source of income, the family of three depended on every last dolar my grandmother made. Oftentimes, my grandmother would work non-stop and still had no money to feed herself, giving all the food to her children instead. 

However, she did everything by herself and persevered through every obstacle life threw at her. For example, when my mom’s foot broke, my grandmother put my mom on her shoulders and carried her for an hour to seek medical help. She really wasn’t afraid of anything, rather she did what she needed to do which makes her such an empowering woman. When my aunt got catcalled and pinched by a man on a bike that passed her and my grandmother on the street, my grandmother, filled with pure anger, chased him down, beat him, and assertively asked if that was a proper thing to do and shamed him for harassing women. She did all of this despite the fact that catcalling and pinching were perfectly acceptable in that society. My grandmother would not let anyone hurt her family in any way or assert dominance over women for the simple fact that they were a woman. 

Eventually my grandma married again and had another child. Just as she had the chance to take a breath, an Islamic revolution began in Iran in the year 1979. By the early 1980s, new Islamic authorities imposed a mandatory dress code that required all women to wear a hijab. Society changed to adopt even more traditional outlooks and roles for women. Because of this, my grandmother, mom, aunt, and every other woman in the country had to cover themselves, wear a headscarf and modest clothing. 

One day when my grandmother and her family were coming home, my aunt took her hijab off in front of the door and the revolutionary guards saw. Out of fear of being taken to jail, they ran into the house but the guard would not leave until the person who had taken their hijab off, came out and followed them to jail. Although it was my aunt who took it off, my grandma went in her place because she didn’t want her daughter going to such a physically and emotionally brutal jail. After a day in solitary confinement, flickering lights, loud screams and noises of torture, my grandpa bribed the guards to let my grandmother free. 

After that, my grandmother, her children, and her husband packed up a few clothes and left their house and most of their belongings to seek refuge in Greece. 

After a year in Greece, taking care of a baby and working small jobs to feed the family, not knowing for certain what was going to happen, they took off for the U.S. Once my grandmother arrived in the U.S., she took classes to learn English at a local college and began taking care of her disabled friend. 

My grandmother is so inspiring. She lived a life with constant obstacles, yet she was able to hold up herself and everyone else around her. She didn’t let anyone take advantage of her or her family. Because of her resilience and determination, I’m able to live in a place where my biggest worry is college application season, never worrying about what I’m wearing or if I’ll have food to eat or if my life will be completely dictated by the fact that I’m a female. 

My great-grandmother by Melissa Spaulding

My great grandmother, Bessie Leona May Corkill, died when I was in second grade. Despite the fact that I only knew her for a handful of years, she continues to impact the woman I am today.  She was a pioneer woman in every sense of the term. Long before I was born, my great-grandmother worked in her gardens to feed her family as well as the field hands on her Nebraska farm. She cared for chickens that she used both for eggs and as food. When not on the farm, she was a teacher in a one-room schoolhouse. She was both determined and resilient in a life that cannot have been easy and was certainly not luxurious. Even in her elder years, she shoveled her own snow and painted her own home. Sitting in my office with my store-bought breakfast, I am continually impressed with her self-reliance.

She lived in her own home until she died at 93 years old. I remember our family, with three small and rambunctious children invading her house every summer. She was definitely not the frail great-grandmother that she probably should have been, but strong and independent. I remember seeing her up on a ladder one of the last times we visited. In her 80s and even into her 90s, she served at the senior center every day, helping take care of those who needed it, even those who were similarly aged. She was active in the community her whole life, a member of the VFW auxiliary in her youth.

What my mom always remembers, though I was too young to pay attention to such things, was how eco-friendly before her time my great-grandmother was. She repurposed everything whether that meant cleaning cans and removing the labels for reuse or saving the string off of packages.

What I really remember most about her, however, was her cinnamon rolls. She would make them for the community and people would keep coming back asking for more. I just remember seeing my mom sitting at my great-grandmother’s linoleum kitchen table smiling. It was a very particular smile, a smile that said she was home. That was my great-grandmother. She was one of the strongest women I knew and she used that strength to make people feel at home whether on the farm, in her classroom, or in her own kitchen.

Author: Plaid Press

Granada Hills Charter High School newspaper

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