March is Women’s History Month and at Duolingo, we’ve been celebrating all of the inspiring women in our lives! From fireside chats featuring women in senior leadership at Duolingo to showing love to our SHEROES, we’ve seen that the women in our lives have consistently taught us valuable lessons through the experiences they’ve endured. They teach us to be resilient, to know our worth, and to keep breaking down barriers. As we wrap up Women’s History Month, this blog post features just some of the lessons learned from the powerful women in Duolingo employees’ lives.
She taught me...
|My mom, a Staff Pathologist and a Lab Director of 5 labs, worked her way up in the medical field and taught me that you don’t have to blow out someone else’s candle to let yours shine. Immigrating from Pakistan and taking consistent breaks in her education for her kids never stopped her from being the best doctor she could be.
She also taught me to have the confidence to go in a photo booth by yourself if you’re looking THAT good.
- Zaria Parvez, Social Media Coordinator
|My mom was the third woman to ever graduate from medical school in the entire country of Guatemala (this was in the 1960s in a developing country; there were no bathrooms for women in the entire school of medicine). Since she concentrated on her career, she found herself single and without children at the age of 42, so she decided to convince the professor she admired the most from med school to have a child with her — no strings attached, she’d take care of the child herself. That was me! She taught me the value of hard work.
- Luis von Ahn, CEO
|She (my grandma) taught me everything I know about fashion, art, and unconditional love. I wore one of her dresses to my senior prom. She’s a glamorous 71 years old here, I’m an awkward 18.
- Caroline Fisher, Marketing Manager II
|This is my mom, Nabila. She was my best friend and the best mentor I ever had by far. She taught me so much, it’s hard to encapsulate in one post tbh. She taught me that being a good person is more important than success. She taught me to use my head to make important decisions and not be swayed by greed. She didn’t have any resources growing up and made sure her kids would never want for education and opportunities. She taught me to love with sincerity and loyalty (Growing up, she told me if a girl ever came to her and complained about me, I would have some answering to do). She taught me to be optimistic even if things are not going well. She lived her life as a free spirit, no matter how against the grain it was (being a tomboy in the 70s in Pakistan was definitely unorthodox). She is a true inspiration to me!
- Basim Baig, Senior Engineering Manager
|This is my grandmother (aka, mammaw) Joyce. Although she passed away when I was young, I remember her as a strong, kind, and selfless person. But what I find most inspirational about her is something I learned long after her passing. At the age of 30, she found herself with child but not married, which was not exactly socially acceptable in the 1950s South. She was pressured by many of her relatives to give her baby—my mother—up for adoption. Someone went so far as to try to connect her with a preacher’s family in another state that was looking to adopt a child. But she refused and decided to raise my mother on her own. She worked in factories to provide for her daughter and befriended other single mothers who helped each other out. Her story taught me not to give in to societal expectations, to live your truth, follow your heart, and surround yourself with people who will love and support you.
- Ramsey Cardwell, Assessment Scientist I
|These are my Grandmas (Gui, my mom's mom looking at the camera and Grandma my dad's mom who is doing a headstand). They grew up best friends and Gui taught me the importance of family and my Grandma taught me to not take myself too seriously, how to pray, and how to nurture.
- Lauren Kurtz, Staff QA Specialist
|Meet my grandmother Catherine “Dissie” Sheats, valedictorian of her high school class and queen of our little Delaware town. She drove the world’s biggest Lincoln Town Car, “DISSIE” on the license plate announcing her arrival. She topped out at 4’10" but owned every room she entered. She taught me to loom large.
- Mary van Ogtrop, Senior Writer
|Meet my grandmother: Grace Payne. She worked as a full-time nurse all while supporting 6 daughters and 5 sons. She, along with my mother, taught me that Payne women “go through the wall.” We don’t take the easy way out by going around it or above it. She was one of the strongest women I knew and thankful she passed that down to my mom, who passed that down to me!
- Brittany Mezhir, Recruiter I
|Meet my high school English teacher, Jane Taber. She had my number - the only teacher with whom I couldn’t get away with a single thing. She taught me to focus, to write and say what I mean, and to come prepared. And she gave me a shelf’s worth of novels, plays, and poems from her classroom when I graduated that have been on the bookshelf of every place I’ve lived since.
- Tim Shey, VP, Head of Studios and Content
|I wanted to share a very special person to me who taught me a lot, and it is someone I did not meet until I was 30 years old, but someone who is without a doubt my favorite person in the entire world. It is my niece Penny. Penny has taught me to be totally free, not to have concerns about what other people think or what is "cool," she's reminded me how fun child-like games and ideas are. Mostly, since she has been around, I have found myself trying harder to be the best role model I can be, using words like strong, smart, creative to compliment her instead of always pretty (although I still tell her she's pretty), and to take compliments and have confidence myself, so she grows up seeing that in the women in her life.
- Meredith Fernandez, Executive Assistant and Office Manager
|Dr. Taru Dewan is a doctor of Ophthalmology in India. She could be making millions but she chooses to work at a public health hospital where healthcare is close to free. She recently got the first patent ever in the history of the hospital she works at. She's coming to Las Vegas to present her awesomeness at a conference this summer. She taught me to shine while also leaving a mark on the world. She's my mom.
I haven't met my family in over a year. As an international student, I was barely able to go back home twice a year, and that too for not that long. Every time we video call, I can tell she's tearing up. Still, she always encourages me to live my life to the fullest here, on the opposite end of the globe. She taught me to love selflessly. She has given me so much strength, when a lot of my family didn't. I'm this independent only because of her. Here's a picture of us from the last time I met her, in December 2019 (yes, the woman on the right is my mom).
- Komal Dewan, Software Engineer I
|This is my mom in 1993, with my older brother who is about 9 months. She was a park ranger at Mt Rainier for many years, living in one of the ranger cabins within the park during the summers. She taught me to love spending time in nature, hiking, skiing, backpacking, etc, and I know these activities have become a core part of my identity. During her time as a ranger she did all kinds of things - trail work, rescuing hikers/climbers who had accidents (including at least one heart attack), and educating people about the park.
I think the most impressive story from her time at Rainier is when she had to put up new trail signs along the 31 mile Northern Loop. She had to carry a bunch of 4x4 wooden sign posts, as well as all of her equipment. The task was supposed to take several days, but a few hours into the hike she decided she could probably do it all in one day, and then proceeded to do exactly that. To be clear, this is a loop that many people take several days to backpack around, carrying only their equipment, and she also had to haul a bunch of sign posts. As a 5'1", 110lb woman, she taught me that physical feats are way more mental than most people think, and there is pretty much nothing that men can do that women can’t.
- Isabel Sharp, Software Engineer II
|My Grandma Geri saw my interests early and nurtured my imagination. She would read to me in French (she loved learning languages too!) and when she saw that I loved to invent stories, we became “pen pals” - we’d write stories together, page by page, sending drafts back and through the mail. When she passed away, we found journals she had written in for years, detailing the lives of not just herself, her kids and her grandchildren, but also writing down every story she could remember that her mother, mother-in-law and grandmother had told her. She had made a chronicle of the women that came before me. It was such an incredible gift. She taught me the value of art, passion and creativity - even if you create for no one else to see.
My Grandma Jennie is the biggest badass I know. She attended university in Mississippi in the 50s -- that was no small feat, especially for a black woman at that time. She has unimaginable grit and strength, which I try to emulate every day. She raised four boys on a secretary’s salary, and I swear that everything if I know anything about making a lot out of a little, throwing down in the kitchen, and taking no shit from absolutely anyone, I know it from her. She really is incredible.
-Jasmine Turner, Program Manager
|This is my grandmother, Kay. She was the earliest example I had of serious female resilience. She was unexpectedly widowed when my mother was 18 months old and she seamlessly and selflessly stepped into a single parent role without a complaint - raising my mom and her four sisters to become really incredible women as well. She taught me a multitude of things, but some of my favorite lessons from her include the following: 1. Women are capable of truly everything. 2. It’s very important to lift other women up. 3. Nurture creativity in all forms. 4. Family always comes first. 5. Lots of things can be solved with a good meal and a good laugh. 6. Always have a seat at the table for someone that might need it. 7. There is rarely a celebration that isn’t enhanced by an excellent costume. She was a true beacon of light and a super warm and hilarious woman - I’m very lucky to have had her in my life.
- Emma McLeavey-Weeder, Lead Strategic Engagement Executive
|I wanted to share a little bit about my mentor in college, the late, great Dr. Patty Cunningham. She taught me tons of things, but one thing that stands out is the lesson that there’s always enough time for people or work or causes you care about. She started the office of social change at my college, led more than a few civic engagement programs, and was an advocate and a mentor. But she also bullied people into participating in her puppet shows, made and sent custom Groundhog Day cards, and made sure that you were fed. There was always enough time.
- Jon Fish, Senior Manager, Strategy and Business Operations