A message I sent to all my Girls Who Code:
I still hesitate when I use that term to describe you collectively. That’s a diminutive term, often used to marginalize or make what you do, as a gender, smaller and less important. You are, most clearly, beautiful young women. And yet, I’d like for each of you to always be little girls inside. When you are in your eighties, be little girls inside. When you rule the world, be little girls. And be powerful women.
The video you made for us blew me away. In those three minutes and two seconds, you told me more about your summer experience than words can express. I’ve watched it several times, and replayed it in my head many more. This is what it said to me: you love each other, and you felt free to play. That’s it, right there, everything you ever need to know. Spend the rest of your life loving and playing, and I promise you, you will have lived a great life. It won’t be easy, but it’ll be great.
Yesterday, I spent the day watching you together. It was an incredible, beautiful sight. The way you rushed to each other’s aid, your big group hugs, your cheers, your goofiness, your happiness, your including everyone, your beautiful (cough, cough … and, not cough) singing and the messages you made for each other were all priceless gifts to me. Although I have not read all your notes and cards yet, (I am a frosting last sort of person) those are priceless to me, too. Especially because they are hand-written, and some even in CURSIVE! (Mia, I hope you are icing your wrist this morning, because I know how hard that must’ve been.) I think I got more of those from you that I’ve gotten in nine years of teaching. I will treasure each one. I will also treasure the group card everyone signed, but I will treasure even more its envelope because it has a food stain on it, and that will remind me of just how much food you all eat, and then I will laugh. (Did you know, at the end of the night, the caterer at graduation actually took a picture of all the empty warming pans because she had never seen ALL the food get eaten before?)
I was very excited about this program when I started this summer. “What an opportunity”, all my friends said. I had no idea. Like many of you, this has been the best summer of my life. OMG, how much fun. Ya’ll are the zaniest (Yu Jing, that word is for you) bunch I’ve ever met.
When I came, my intent was to create a safe place for you to simply try things (play): to try coding, to try connecting, and to try on different ways of being. Yesterday, I saw that we had succeeded. All summer long, I’ve been watching each of you morph into more of who you really are. None of you has changed, really. You are just more of who you really are.
I couldn’t have done it without Shanzeh (I only mention her name because she has a habit of searching for her name in everything I write so she doesn’t have to read the rest of it) and Courtney. They are two incredibly powerful young women, and you (and I, and everyone else) would do well to watch and learn from them. Though I never explained it to them, they intuitively knew what I meant by safe space and help build it, minute by minute, interaction by interaction, day by day. I’ve told them many times that we make a great team – where one of us is lacking, another picks up and moves us forward.
I saw that in your teams, too. You supported each other and drew on talents and skills you didn’t know you had to move your projects forward. They were all incredible. I am so proud of what you achieved in that short amount of time, and know I’ll be reading and hearing about your achievements for years to come. You will not be the women wearing purple. You will be the women who WRITE about why you wear purple. Or green, or blue, or rainbow colors.
Some of my favorite memories? Disney Day, and everyone singing along, the Syntax Rap – OMG, no words. But also, I’ll always remember noticing the changes in each of you, you helping each other, you laughing together, and you all finding ways to be together, whether you were at lunch, working on projects, (supposedly) writing your journals, and even outside of class. Those all meant so much to me. That is the important part of Girls Who Code – the relationships. The classwork is the skeleton, but the friendships are the flesh and blood.
On Monday, I suspect that there will be more than a little relief that we are gone, but there will also be be a great big gaping hole in the side of 161 North Clark on the 36th and 40th floors where your presence is missing. “… but I kind of miss them too.”
Let me take a moment here to thank my family back home in Connecticut for allowing me to do this. If they weren’t there, suffering in the heat (heat index of 110 today), holding down the fort, I couldn’t be here. And this is the greatest gift ever.
Why? Because last summer, I suffered a painful loss in my coding career, and lost part of my identity. But no door closes without another opening. Without that loss, I would not be here. You made it safe for me. You made it safe for me to rebuild that part of my identity. “This is where I’m meant to be,” as the song goes. Although I am a middle class white guy with all the privilege and impediments that brings, I am also a Girl Who Codes, with those privileges and impediments, too. You helped that Girl Who Codes feel safe. Thank you.
I did not have time in my graduation speech to say all these things; there were other things I needed to say in that particular place and at that particular time to those particular people. (Accenture WAS really good to us, I’ve been around enough to know it didn’t have to go that way.) Plus, if I had said these things in my speech, I’d have been a mess. I am right now. I’ve been up for hours (I started this before 5AM) thinking of everything I want to say to you. And now, one last thing. Because I am frosting last, this, to me is the very best part.
You all left the room happy and together.
And in search of food.
I love you all.
Joseph W. Ochterski, Ph.D.
Teacher, husband, father, bridge builder
And now, Girl Who Codes