Monday marked the all too soon end to a life I have admired for the entirety of mine. Sally Ride, the first American woman in space, passed away after a long battle with cancer. Sally was my president, my rabbi, and the keeper of my dreams. Offering inspiration for a generation of girls, her accomplishments made the stars feel in reach for one young girl in a small, rural western Massachusetts town. A girl who sits here as a woman, now the same age as when Sally first went into space, deeply thankful for the inspiration that came from the worn pages of her copy of Ride's children's book, To Space & Back.
When I was younger I pored over each page of that book. Every word was a passport to outer space. But what I loved most were the pictures. Each nook of the shuttle, every cranny in the gadgets—they filled my mind with possibilities. Seeing the crew together, all so smart, all in the same flight suit—it didn’t matter how much money you had. And growing up in a low income community, the image of achieving something so great and not having it matter what you were wearing was intoxicating.
Sally Ride felt like proof-positive to my intuition that if I put my brain to work, and succeeded in math and science, that my opportunities would be limitless. I could go to the stars. When I decided to put those math and science strengths to work as an engineering undergrad, I had the seemingly inexplicable drive to master polymer sciences. My initial major was in aerospace engineering. If I couldn’t get to space, I could make the things that did! Being one of few women on campus didn’t faze me—Sally was already a model of finding your path there.
In the end, I switched my major into the nuanced science of how people and organizations work together, and years later ended up working in an organization that is chock full of crazy smart women. But I still hang on to the trail through the heavens that Sally blazed, and someday, God willing, I will sit with my daughter and we’ll read To Space & Back together. When she looks in my eyes, she’ll know that no matter how hard we scrap for money or through other obstacles in our path, I fully believe in her potential to reach the stars.