This past weekend, I had the unique privilege of serving as a panelist at the Young Women’s Political & Civic Leadership Program, hosted by USC’s Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics.
Over the course of the hour, I shared what motivated me to run for office at our university with a room full of bright-eyed young women. I shared anecdotes of my immigrant roots and my small-town beginnings. I spoke about what it’s like to make mistakes and to be criticized for your work. I laughed while recounting the first time I ran for a position — it was in the 4th grade and my slogan (unfortunately) was “Vote for Rini because she’s not a meanie.”
As the conference wrapped up, numerous young women walked up to me to shake my hand. Many asked for my business card, some even asked to take pictures with me. In a room where former mayoral candidates and important public officials stood around, I couldn’t help but wonder: Why me?
After all, I’m only 19 years old — I feel like switching my major as much as I switch shampoo brands; there are days where my breakfast food choices confuse me and there are too many times in the year when I feel like I have no idea what I’m doing in life.
But to them, I’m Rini Sampath, USC’s Student Body Vice President. These girls told me that they also wanted to run for office in college.
After this weekend’s events, I’ve learned that regardless of where an individual goes in life, regardless of how successful he or she is financially, it is his or her societal duty to cultivate the next generation of leaders.
Empowering the next generation of female leaders should be the ultimate priority in women’s empowerment. Young girls have so much excitement and optimism, and with guidance, this energy can be channeled into true greatness. Implementing more mentorship programs to foster more confident and ambitious young women is instrumental to the vitality of our future; it is imperative that we provide them with the resources and motivation to achieve their dreams.
But this isn’t just cheesy rhetoric; this idea is supported by real research. A 2011 study by the University of Georgia revealed the importance of mentor and mentee relationships in overcoming hardship. According to a press release, researchers discovered “that behaviors such as anger, breaking the law, and substance abuse were reduced when informal mentors provided support and helped them learn to deal with adult problems.”
Philanthropist Marjorie Harvey, co-founder of the Girls Who Run the World weekend program, has made it her goal to empower young women.
“In my eyes, we’ve really failed this generation, and it’s time to step up and do damage control to help these children be able to navigate through the pressures and mistakes they make … I tell the girls, ‘Y’all are the prize. Please stop giving your power away. Set the bar high,’” she told Essence magazine.
As Harvey noted, young girls need to be instilled with the confidence to succeed. Though high school student governments are filled with women in executive roles, distractions turn women away from those same positions at the collegiate and professional levels.
Fortunately, mentorship programs such as Women and Youth Supporting Each Other hone in on this problem and work tirelessly to solve it. WYSE is a national nonprofit mentorship program, and the USC chapter dedicates multiple hours each week to educating young girls at local middle schools.
These types of efforts are critical to our future.
Looking back on yesterday, I know in my heart any one of those girls could go on to become our next mayor, the next Facebook COO, the next U.S. attorney general or secretary of state. They have unparalleled potential.
As Plutarch once said, “The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be kindled.”
So even if we’re not superheroes or celebrities, even if we don’t have some parts of our own life figured out, we must recognize that a few words of encouragement or a few hours every weekend can go a long way.
Rini Sampath is a sophomore majoring in international relations. Her column, “Leaning In,” ran Mondays.