March 14, 2018

Without imperfection, you or I would not exist

I was eight years old when I first read A Brief History of Time; most of it went way over my head, but I was entranced.

When I was nine years old, I was at a public speaking competition and one of the judges asked me what I’d like to be when I grow up, I vacillated: I’d like to either be a writer or a cosmologist.”

The judge laughed and said I should be a writer, because only women became cosmetologists.” (That statement is problematic in so many ways, but I won’t get into that here.) When I clarified that I wanted to do cosmology and not cosmetology, he corrected” me, telling me I was making that word up.

I ended up winning the competition; the next day, after picking up my award, I took my copy of A Brief History of Time and pointed to the photo of Stephen Hawking on the cover. This man,” I exclaimed, is a cosmologist, and has already changed the world more than you’ll ever know.”

(That was perhaps mean, in retrospect, but the judge deserved it at the time.)

I never did end up pursuing cosmology—my lack of affinity for science as I grew up moved me quickly into the humanities and social sciences—but I still remember that moment clearly. Stephen Hawking may have changed the world with his science, but he changed my life by helping me find my voice to challenge the system and speak the truth.

Rest in peace, Dr. Hawking. Today, I will remember to look up at the stars and not down at my feet.