The summer before freshman year, I decided I wanted to be a Marine. While watching a recruitment ad on TV, I had a stereotypically cheesy epiphany, but the decision wasn’t one I took lightly.
I struggled with the idea of joining for months, unsure of whether I really wanted it, or whether I would be able to do it (at the time I couldn’t even run a mile), or whether people would judge me for it. I kept my choice to myself while I built up the confidence to tell people and convinced myself that I didn’t care what other people thought.
This proved invaluable, because I soon discovered that some of the adults in my life were less than supportive of my decision.
I first encountered this resistance from a family friend at a dinner party my sophomore year. As our conversation turned to school and my plans (or lack thereof) for college, she posed this question to me:
“Do you have any ideas on what you want to do after college?”
“Actually yeah, I want to join the Marine Corps.” Shock coupled with slight revulsion flitted across her face as I watched. She blinked hard before replying.
“Well, now, I thought you were at Hockaday! A daisy like yourself is much too smart to throw such a great education away just to play soldier!”
It was my turn to blink and let a look of disgust cross my face. She rambled on about how the only people in the military were poor, underprivileged kids with no other prospects, but I stopped listening. I knew the military wasn’t exactly the most common career path for Hockaday girls, but I had imagined that people would be encouraging, or at the very least, interested.
I wrote this woman off as an outlier; surely the rest of the community would realize serving was honorable, right? Only then it happened again. And again.
Adults with whom I shared my plans told me I was “too smart,” “too creative,” and flat out “too good” for the Marines. I “had so many better opportunities” open to me, like “getting a ‘real’ job” after college. One dad actually laughed and complimented me on my sense of humor when I mentioned my military plans.
These were adults close to me: family friends and the parents of my classmates at both Hockaday and St. Mark’s. The condescending tone I heard in their responses to my chosen career path stung every time. It felt as though they thought my career choice was below me—regardless of the fact that I took pride in it and worked hard to attain it.
When ridicule became unbearable, I finally just stopped telling adults my real plans. I told them I was interested in engineering and quickly changed the subject, leaving out the fact that I intended to use that engineering degree to help me fly helicopters into combat zones.
I discovered that I was not alone in my predicament after talking to a few of my peers. During a shared free period a few weeks ago, senior Natalie described some of the reactions she received when she told people of her hope to become a nurse. They sounded almost identical to the ones I had encountered: condescension, scorn, sometimes downright disrespect. She had also experienced something I hadn’t: a similar reaction from some students.
When I talked to my peers about being a Marine, they were, for the most part, very interested. It was a novel thing to them, so they seemed interested.
Even among peers, however, Natalie had encountered girls who expressed something less than support for her career choice. She noted that the majority of girls were encouraging, but some seemed to look down on nursing as a profession, expressing an attitude that said “why be a nurse when you could make more money as a doctor?” The ‘standard’ of the daisy’s path to a highly paid profession influenced their judgement as well. Then Natalie told me of a reaction from someone outside the “bubble.”
“I went to visit my cousins a while ago, and when I told them I wanted to go to nursing school, they said ‘that’s such a good profession! I bet you’ll be great at it.’ It’s like, to the rest of the world, nursing is a really well-thought-of profession.”
As daisies, we grow up in a highly supportive environment. We learn from a young age to speak our minds and take risks with our ideas, because we consider Hockaday a safe haven where we find out how to be ourselves. Here, we abandon the idea that women are anything less than equal to men. From our first day, we are taught that we “can be anything we want to be,” no matter the obstacles that stand in our way.
With so many opportunities, however, comes the expectation that we utilize them. The pressure to live up to the Hockaday standard pushes us to achieve our best in every arena. But to what extent does that pressure dictate the path we take for the rest of our lives?
Not everyone is born to be a doctor, or a lawyer or an engineer. Not even hockadaisies. Similarly, not everyone is born to be a Marine, or a nurse or an artist. I have respect for every one of my peers’ career aspirations, because every one of them can do something I can’t. I shudder to think of the potential consequences were I to become a nurse or a doctor (I am typically of the “rub some dirt in it” school of medicine), and the idea of me as a professional artist is downright laughable. But I also cringe imagining some of my peers as Marines. The world needs the excellence that we work so hard to achieve in every field.