The news of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s passing last Friday has provoked vivid memories of the spring of 2017. That June, members of the eighth grade class, now high school seniors, traveled to Washington, D.C., and had the opportunity of a lifetimea personal visit with Justice Ginsburg.
As educators of children in pre-kindergarten through eighth grade, the students we guide to graduation are “unfinished,” and appropriately so. Yes, they have learned the critical skills that will be foundational for their future discoveries. And yes, the skills of problem-solving, critical thinking, collaboration, and communication are solidly in place when they move on. However, where those skills will lead them and what passions and pursuits will take shape in high school, college, and beyond are yet to be determined.
The grace, advice, and wisdom Justice Ginsburg shared at that meeting undoubtedly stamped the Class of 2017’s Belmont Day journey. As tributes pour out across the world, I will share the guidance she provided to our students with you.
Fight for the things you care about, but do so in a way that will lead others to join you.
Throughout her 60-year career as a lawyer and 25 years as a Supreme Court Justice, Ginsburg was a pioneer for gender equality in our nation. The deftness of leadership and unwavering perseverance that effort has required might not seem as gargantuan as it was to our students today. Of course, that is due mainly to the fight that she led and all that she helped to accomplish. So, too, will it be for our student leaders as they head into a world where some challenges remain crystal clear while others are yet undiscovered. Where better to be working on the skills that will be required to meet unknown challenges than here at Belmont Day?
I’m a very strong believer in listening and learning from others.
Justice Ginsburg may not have uniquely offered this piece of wisdomI can imagine that every teacher and parent here at Belmont Day shares this belief. What makes the statement so powerful is its delivery to young people by a woman sitting on the country’s highest courta leader whose education, critical thinking, problem-solving, and analytical skills set policy for our entire nation for decades to come. This counsel is an extraordinary reflection of the humility of a leader that the country has listened to and learned from.
Ginsburg shared the power of the ‘conference handshake’ with the Class of 2017, a Supreme Court tradition that dates well before Ginsburg’s time. Before deliberations on any case, the justices shake hands with one another as a reminder of the importance of relationships and the knowledge that, no matter how bitter the discussion might be, they will continue to work together and respect one another. I always marveled at the well-chronicled relationship between Ginsburg and Antonin Scalia. Ginsburg and Scalia occupied seats at either end of the political spectrum. As the story goes, they fought long and hard to preserve their perspective when in deliberation, often to the other’s frustration. And yet, when deliberations ended, they considered each other the dearest of friends. Our world could use a bit of that perspective today. As we seek to educate our students about the world that awaits them and prepare them with the skills necessary to navigate that world, I hope that we give them the perspective and courage to engage in a conference handshake or two along the way.
When asked in an MSNBC interview in 2015 what she would like to be remembered for, RBG answered, “Someone who used whatever talent she had to do her work to the very best of her ability. And to help repair tears in her society, to make things a little better through the use of whatever ability she has.”
As our in-process young people travel through their elementary and middle school years, their Belmont Day teachers stand ready to inspire and challenge them to discover their authentic voices and the talents and passions that will flourish in high school, college, and beyond.