As you may know, I attended the prestigious Westlake School for Girls, an elite top ten private school in Los Angeles. The application process focused on academics. Yet, in addition to demanding top SSAT scores and elementary school grade point averages, every application also required a head shot. As students, wearing our wool pleated skirts, button down oxford shirts and wool sweaters, we would regularly waive to busses filled with tourists passing by the campus on their tour of stars’ homes with the hope of landing a picture of a potential Nobel laureate or Oscar winner in the making.
By the time I got to the tenth grade, the focus was getting through the academic playoffs to secure a spot in a top university. I kept my head down and studied, took tests, and actively engaged in extracurricular activities including speech and debate, student newspaper, math team and volleyball (colleges look for well rounded students).
Second semester midterms came – the few days we were allowed to abandon our uniforms and wear “free dress.” This was the opportunity to show off trendy jeans. Being a scholarship student, I was not the owner of a pair of the coveted high-waisted Z Cavaricci acid wash jeans, and I just donned comfortable sweats and my “exam sweatshirt” – the sweatshirt I have worn to every exam I have taken since the seventh grade. (It is now integrated into a quilt with other t-shirts and sweatshirts from my academic journey.) Midterms finally came to an end and we were all spent. But instead of taking Spring Break to party in Palm Springs and/or indulge at a spa in Aspen, I was lucky enough to secure a scholarship to a top chemistry workshop. I spent the week doing stoichiometry and thermodynamics in preparation for AP Chemistry in eleventh grade.
I came back to Westlake after Spring Break, ready and excited to see my classmates. But when I arrived, I was bombarded with the aftermath of a horrific and violent encounter. I got to the Monday morning assembly and 80% of the tenth grade class had black eyes, bloody noses, bandages on their faces, and most of them were in continuous pain. What could have happened to all of them? How could so many of them have fallen victim to brutal acts of physical violence.
Then it occurred to me. During Spring Break, there was a big Operation Rescue protest at a Los Angeles abortion clinic that turned riotous. While helping escort women who were seeking services from the clinic through the blockade, the Women’s Studies class at my school must have been involved in the brutal altercation I had read about in the paper. These women in my class were all heroes. They did not renew and refresh themselves in Palm Springs or enjoy apres ski in Colorado. They gave up their Spring Break to ensure the rights of these women to make fundamental choices about their health and their lives – and my classmates ended up “taking a bullet” for it. And what did I do? Chemistry Camp. What was I doing to promote civil rights? I felt like such a failure.
At this point, the only way I could get involved and contribute to the cause was to make sure the student newspaper covered this important and altruistic effort. I asked one of my classmates is she would be willing to be interviewed for the paper. She said yes, but it would have to be after she went to see the doctor. Of course. She asked me to meet her at the doctor’s office for the interview and that her mom would drive me home after. She handed me his business card so I would have the address:
Dr. Howard Stevens, MD, FACS
Rodeo Drive, Beverly Hills