When I was in 6th grade, my classmates and I received our first big middle school research assignment: we would be writing a paper on and portraying famous women in history. The names of famous and influential women would be put in a hat and we would take turns choosing, and then we would write a paper on our pick and portray them in a fair, to which all of our parents would be invited. We were pretty pumped – a research paper sounded like a pretty big deal, and to be able to dress up like our potential heroes and flaunt our knowledge in front of our parents? Too good to be true.
We all waiting eagerly in our seats while our classmates filed up to the front of the class and started picking names out of the hat. Amelia Earhart. Hillary Rodham Clinton. Mother Theresa. Cleopatra. The girl in front of me picked Shirley Temple. Sure, she might not have been the most influential person in history, but she wore tap shoes. Can you imagine how much fun tap shoes would be on those linoleum school floors?
And then it was my turn. I tried to stifle the nervous excitement as I walked up to the hat. I fought the urge to peek at the pieces of paper as I reached in and dug around, and I felt the anticipation build as I opened the slip and read my fate.
For the next few weeks, I poured over the 2 books on Oprah that I was able to check out from the library under the questioning eye of the librarian. Let me tell you, it’s not easy to write a paper on someone like Oprah Winfrey, especially as a 10-year old. She endured hardships as a child, but something told me that we should be keeping these presentations light and lively since we would be presenting them to our parents and the parents of our classmates. As a result, I relied heavily on her role in The Color Purple. My mom’s job of finding me an outfit to wear was equally difficult. Oprah was big into power suits back in ’96, but where does one find a power suit to fit a 10-year old girl?
We persevered and eventually the big day was upon us. We set up our presentation materials, changed into our power suits and tap shoes, respectively, and waited for our adoring fans to come rolling in. The parents walked around the room, stopping at everyone’s desks to hear about Sacagawea’s expedition with Lewis and Clark and Amelia Earhart’s travels. Even I could hear the questioning tone in my answer to their initial question:
“And who are you?”
The typical reaction to that answer was nervous laughter and a quick shuffle sideways to the next kid. It wasn’t an easy day.
Eventually word got out that the media had arrived; a reporter from the local paper had caught wind of the fair and was there covering the action. What happened next can best be described as “unfortunate.” As a prank, the class clown walked behind my desk and plopped a novelty wig on my head. I was reaching up to rip it off when I heard someone say “cheese!” and was blinded by the flash of the reporter’s camera. In a questionable act of news reporting, the picture was published in the paper shortly thereafter. I’m sure you can all imagine the pride that my parents felt for their youngest daughter when this shot landed on the doorsteps of everyone in town the next day: