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Chris Linnares, Published December 11 2013

Women's Wisdom: Heitkamp finds public service highly rewarding

“We hold these truths to be sacred and undeniable; that all men are created equal and independent, that from that equal creation they derive rights inherent and inalienable, among which are the preservation of life, and liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

I read these words again a few months ago when I was studying to get my U.S. citizenship, a process that helped me to understand even more this country’s powerful and beautiful history.

Being from Brazil, a country new to democracy, and being raised in a family that was very involved in the Brazilian movement to fight for democracy and freedom, I don’t take the dream of the founding fathers of this great nation for granted. When my hubby tells me I talk too much, I say it’s because I am proudly of exercising my right of freedom of speech.

Becoming an American citizen was an emotional and unforgettable moment. Receiving the right to vote and be more involved in the country I call home gave me a sense of great honor and even greater responsibility.

The week of my naturalization ceremony, I felt so honored receiving a letter of congratulations of citizenship from Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, a woman I admire and a leader I respect for her perseverance and pioneering spirit.

As I read the inspiring letter written by a female leader who has taken on a role of representing the people, I had tears in my eyes. I was reminded of how far this nation has come in creating a world of equal opportunity for all.

It’s also a reminder of the challenges we still face as women. According to the 2010 Census Bureau, 17 million American women are living in poverty, their numbers much higher than men.

This is why I am honored to feature U.S. Sen. Heitkamp of North Dakota in our Women’s Wisdom column today.

I hope you set aside political affiliation and take in wisdom from someone who has been a trailblazer for women in our state and nation.

Her wisdom reminds us that together we can all create a place where everyone has a chance to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Q If your life was a bestselling book, what part of your story would be the most inspiring?

A Twelve years ago, I beat breast cancer. This was a very personal struggle, and I was diagnosed while I was in the middle of a political campaign. I learned quickly how to really fight – not just in a campaign, but for my life. And with the support of my family and friends, I was able to persevere.

Q In the story of your life, what was the most challenging moment you needed to overcome?

A I would say that overcoming breast cancer was also the most challenging moment.

It’s not something anyone expects, and fighting back this terrifying disease was a huge challenge. But with a great deal of help and support, I beat it.

Q If you gave the book of your life to your teenage self, what lessons do you wish she’d learn then that you know now?

A I would tell my teenage self that you are braver than you think you are. Don’t be afraid to try something new, and don’t be afraid of failure.

When I battled breast cancer, I was reminded that we are only in this world for a short period of time, and I don’t want to regret not trying something because of the fear of failure.

Q What connection changed the story of your life that you are grateful for now and why?

A Laurie Loveland, a lawyer in the North Dakota Attorney General’s office when I was attorney general was wonderful – and sadly, she died too young.

Laurie worked tirelessly on our state’s tobacco settlement against cigarette manufacturers. She knew how to explain complicated issues so people could understand them. That’s rare for a lawyer – believe me!

But Laurie was also well-rounded in her personal life. She loved to cook and to sew, and she made time to have fun.

I have had the privilege or working with many people who are really smart, hardworking and loyal. But as a friend, Laurie was generous to a fault, and always a good friend to those who knew her.

Over the years, I have helped choose the Laurie Loveland scholarship, established by attorneys in her honor at North Dakota State University.

To qualify, the student must have strong leadership potential and plan a career in public service. Applicants answer a single question, “Why are you a feminist?”

Some students may not have even considered the question before. But it helps get them thinking. And when I get to interview these bright, young women, they end up inspiring me.

I always make a point to encourage each of them, whatever path they are on. It costs me nothing and can mean so much to tell a young person that her aspirations are not just important but reachable. It’s the sort of approach to life that Laurie showed, and I’m grateful for our relationship

Q How can women best impact the world today?

A I would encourage more women to get involved in public service. Right now we have the highest number of women in the U.S. Senate ever – 20 out of 100 Senators. It’s a great deal of progress but we still have so far to go.

And public service doesn’t have to be elected office. It could be volunteering at a local homeless shelter or becoming involved in the PTA. Every bit will make a difference in our lives as well as the lives of our children and grandchildren.

Chris Linnares is international author, psychotherapist and founder of Women’s Impact, formerly Diva Connection Foundation. Originally from Brazil, she lives in Fargo with her daughter and husband Bill Marcil Jr., publisher of the Forum. To suggest a woman for this column, email chris@womensimpact.org. For more information on Linnares’ work, visit www.chrislinnares.com.