Girls from Vashon High School, Yeatman-Liddell College Preparatory Middle School and Kingdom Academy got a chance to visit with “Auntie Maxine” at Vashon on Monday, May 13, when U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters (D-California) stopped in for an hour-long chat at her alma mater. She was in St. Louis for a Mother’s Day celebration with family.
Waters told the young ladies that she was pleased they were in school, pursing their education.
“I know that you’re all doing well and, if you’re not, you are working at doing better, because you understand that in order to really have a job, to be in the forefront of those who are going to be chosen for the jobs that you aspire to, or the kind of career that you want, you have to have an education,” Waters said.
“And even now, the high school education does not get you what it used to get us when we graduated from high school. Now, the competition is keener.”
Waters, a Vashon graduate in the class of 1956 and a Vashon Hall of Famer, encouraged students to surround themselves with people who are positive and supportive, to achieve beyond predictions or expectations, and to work hard and stay focused on what they want to accomplish.
“I want you to have a good quality of life. I don’t care what your experiences are now. I don’t care whether or not you think you are in a tough situation, or people may not be happy, that the parents may not be doing what they think they should do – many are not happy where they live, and worried about the neighborhood. Yeah, that’s life,” Waters said.
“And sometimes it can get a little bit tough, but guess what? If you understand that you have a right to a good quality of life, that you have a right to be able to pursue your education and have a great career and have the good things that life will offer to you – if you believe that, then you work toward it. It will happen.”
Waters’ visit was part of the school’s Sister Circle team leadership forum, which introduces teenagers to successful female leaders. Sherill A. Jones, who leads the Sister Circle at Vashon, said the support group is where girls can discuss all kinds of issues.
“That’s where they learn how to be a support for each other.” Jones said.
Waters encouraged that as well.
“Feel free to share with people who are willing to be supportive. Feel free to let them know you need a little help, if you need it. Feel free to know and recognize when people are trying to help you, and always respect your elders,” Waters said.
“I don’t care what you think. I don’t care what you feel. I don’t care how much you dislike a teacher or a parent – keep it to yourself. Do not disrespect those people who are your elders, your parents, your teachers, your others. There will come a time when you will have expectations of your children and your young people in your neighborhood.”
Waters said when she was at Vashon, public speaking was important, as was the connection and support of teachers.
“The teachers loved us, and they did things for us, and they supported us – and when they thought we were trying and we were doing, they not only complimented us, but they connected us in so many precious ways,” Waters said.
She was referring to when a teacher took her to meet St. Louis opera diva Grace Bumbry after Waters had written a composition about her.
When asked about what advice she would share with youth interested in government and politics, Waters made the case for why it is an important vocation to consider.
“We need young people to be interested in politics. We need young people who are interested in running for office. As you take a look at what’s happening today, most of the presidential candidates are over 70,” Waters said. “We need young people who are going to get started and who can be there for a period of time, to help change laws, to help create new laws.”
Waters asked the young people to pay attention to the news and use social media to keep up with news, politics and current events.
“It’s not something that just older people are involved in or people in certain fields are involved in,” Waters said. “The democracy is everybody’s responsibility. It’s your responsibility to speak up, to call into a radio program, to write an editorial and send it to the newspaper and let them know how you feel. That’s what politics is all about.”
Waters reminded the girls to pursue leadership opportunities.
“Sometimes it’s okay to be part of a team and not be the leader. But if you know that you feel deeply about something, if you know that you are capable of adding to the discussion, to providing that leadership, that’s what I want you to do,” Waters said.
“And it’s so important for African Americans, because for far too long we were relegated to being second class citizens. That day is over.”