Thank you, Sister Immacule
As demanded by dress code, the hem of my plaid skirt brushed the floor as I knelt engaged in work, not prayer, in the empty hallway of my Catholic high school. It was after hours, and I was finishing one of my many campaign posters for Vice President. No rookie to Student Council, I had been involved since my first days as a freshmen and planned out where I would land to wrap up my upcoming senior year.
Vice President was a calculated choice. I looked at the field. Running for President were three popular boys, one of whom I was dating. I told myself I could not beat them. At best, I would split the vote. I thought I had a better chance of winning Vice President, so I submitted my name and got to work.
As I prepared my signs, I could hear someone approaching. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the habit clad form of Sister Immacule coming towards me. I fought the groan building in my throat and said a little prayer that she would walk on by. Having attended parochial school since Kindergarten, I spent a lot of time with nuns. Some were friendly and more progressive, but the vast majority were not. Sister Immacule fell into the latter. Small but stern, she more readily offered admonishments than pleasantries. I kept my head down, going about my business.
She slowly came up beside me. I met her gaze. She leaned in and quietly said, “You should be running for President.” Then she walked away.
My initial reaction was anger. She didn’t understand all the thought I put into this decision. She didn’t know my reasons or the social dynamics at play. I just wanted to be at the table and picked the path I believed was most likely to get me there. I told myself all the these things.
I won that election and became the Vice President. The guy I was seeing also won and became President. I told myself how great it was. Look at us, victorious at prom. It all worked out for the best. But did it?
All these years later, I think back to that moment with Sister Immacule. I didn’t see how profound that encounter was. I didn’t recognize that this woman, who lived her life in an institution built on gender limitations, was telling me that I was holding myself back by choice. She had read my thoughts. She saw exactly what was happening. She knew those boys who were running, and she wanted me to know that I could contend. It was worth reaching for the top. What a gift.
I never thanked Sister Immacule for the advice not taken, and I don’t know if she is alive today. But her lesson definitely did land, even if decades later, and I will continue to pay it forward to women young and old. Our potential is limitless.