As a female business owner, you have survived far longer than most small businesses, compensating for a small market and no staff by working your heart out, burning the midnight oil, learning new skills, confronting real and imagined fears which would have made most abandon any thoughts of success and retreat to a more stable corporate environment. And what have you accomplished? You have become the fabric of a community, as much a part of the social network and the neighborhood as the general store, the multiple coffee shops, the high end and the corner restaurant, the waves that crash against the shore, the mailman who has been delivering packages and registrations to you for 15 years. You have brought the widowed retiree back to French classes, where she recounts her visits to France long ago to those who have never been; you fill the gap for local high school students too advanced for their high school language departments, or perhaps requiring extra attention; you build bridges between young and old, professional and vocational through your Friday morning breakfasts over coffee and croissants, not only sharing a common love of language but supporting a local bakery; your contribution to the city’s monthly art walk infuses an international flavor to the heart of a vibrant art scene and supports artists in their ongoing struggle for exposure. In short, your commitment to your business has created a broader family, drawn to you through the force of your efforts and vitality, and sustained by your vision.
As a visiting professor of French to an elite academic institution, you demonstrate that one can be both an academic and a successful businesswoman; you don’t have to choose. As a woman who sets and abides by her own high standards, you may be one of the first strong female role models for your students, providing leadership and modeling successful achievement.
As the first female coach of the girls cross country and track team at a formerly all boys Jesuit preparatory school, your contributions are simply immeasurable. For every talented high achiever shooting for a state record or national prominence, there is another girl struggling to simply finish the race. You are there to provide a whisper, a yell, a push, a pull; you are there to inspire, cajole, to lead, to manage. For every 20 parents who endorses your loving but firm embrace of their daughter, there is always one parent for whom you can do nothing right. For every parent who gives the sun and the moon to their daughter, there is the rare parent who, for whatever reason, cannot or will not be there for their child. Between these two extremes sits you, to catch, to hold, to listen. You meet them in the mornings, setting a positive mood, you wait for them in the woods, cheering the leaders and exhorting the trailers. You run with a grace and strength that mirrors the way you live your life, and, except for the air of authority you carry with you, you could easily be mistaken for one of your own athletes, or a college runner coming back to train at your old high school. On Saturday mornings, despite having worked 80 hours a week, you meet your team at 8 am for a long run, staying back with the new runners on the rolling hills where necessary, then sprinting ahead to lead, and beat, the top runners in a race up the final hill. You respond to their worried text late at night, scared about a race or simply wanting to share a secret. You spend hours late at night at the office, writing up the most recent results, highlighting achievements while suggesting room for improvements, while piles of your “day job” paperwork and emails still await your review and attention. You encourage them to participate in a breast cancer awareness and fundraising event, knowing that it will teach them to look outside themselves and be of service to others; more importantly, it may save their lives someday. I wasn’t able to go to that event, but I can only imagine the hope and pride in the eyes of the women who watched you lead those young ladies into that fundraising event, with their pink ribbons on and wearing their best clothes. No one else could have done that but you.