In Wednesday’s post, I talked about my upcoming trip and mentioned that I will be competing for a scholarship / leadership position / further trips to D.C. Well, part of that competition involves a speech and I’m rather proud of what I’ve written, if I do say so myself. I thought you might like to read it. The theme is, “Which leader would you most like to emulate?”
Which leader would I most like to emulate? That would have to be Eleanor Roosevelt. You probably know her as just Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s wife, but she was so much more than that.
As a child, Eleanor – or ER as she was sometimes called – didn’t seem like she would amount to much. She was shy and awkward.
However, in her teens and twenties ER came into her own. She did a lot of volunteer work and helped the Red Cross during World War II. She began to figure out what she wanted to do with her life. At about the same time, she met FDR. Eventually they married and had children, and he began to rise through the ranks of local and then national politics.
This put ER in a very unusual position. FDR’s political offices gave her the perfect opportunity to make a difference. Thanks to his job, people would listen to her. Thanks to his job, she could talk to FDR about issues that mattered to her and therefore convince him to work on legislation for those issues.
Those issues were mostly matters of equality. ER was a big supporter of rights for women, black people, et cetera. For example, as the First Lady, she held weekly press conferences that were restricted to female reporters, as a way of forcing newspapers to hire women. In additions, she gave frequent speeches about equality and peace, and wrote a newspaper column.
And this leads me to the first thing I admire about ER: her passion for equality. That issue is very important to me as well. I want to be a leader in the pursuit of equality for everyone. All races, cultures, genders, sexual orientations, and religions. I want to emulate ER’s tireless work ethic. Maybe equality won’t be achieved within my lifetime – it wasn’t in hers, either – but if we don’t keep working on it then we won’t go anywhere.
There is another reason I admire ER. She didn’t have to do any of that work. At the time of FDR’s inauguration, First Ladies were not expected to do much. Now it’s common for them to have a cause – the most recent example would be Michelle Obama and children’s health. But in 1932 that was much, much less common.
In fact, ER set the standard for First Ladies. She wasn’t required to work as much as she did, or even at all. She hadn’t been elected to this office. She received no salary.
But that didn’t matter to her. Equality was important to her; she couldn’t bear to just sit around and do nothing while others were treated unfairly. So she did the work herself.
Eleanor Roosevelt is a role model for me in this way – I want to lead and make a difference in the world but I don’t think that I want to work in government. Well, ER showed me the way. Learning about her life showed me that you don’t have to be in an elected position to be a leader. DIY activism works just as well.
It doesn’t matter whether or not you’re an “official” leader. What matters is your determination, compassion, and work ethic. If you have those, I think you can make a difference in any way possible. I might never be the President or indeed even the First Lady, but that doesn’t mean I can’t lead in some other capacity.
I’m not sure yet as to exactly when I’ll give my speech, but I do know it will be either tonight or tomorrow night. I’m so nervous yet excited – agh!
P.S. Authors write acknowledgements, don’t they? I should do that, too, since I aspire to be a both a leader and a writer. I’d like to thank Kathleen Krull for her essay “Why Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962) Still Rules” from the anthology 33 Things Every Girl Should Know About Women’s History. She kick-started my fascination with ER!