This blog post is included as part of the “Her Story” series, which celebrates the stories of pivotal women in our students' lives that inspire, motivate and embolden them. The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the ideas, views or opinions of

Strength, Courage and Family

Marissa Gerchick


My Nani (Hindi for maternal grandmother) never liked to open her own gifts at the holidays. She would sit perched in the corner spot of the couch–the perfect point to gaze upon her children and grandchildren assembled nearby–with her hands stoically folded in her lap.

Though sitting in her pajamas on a couch littered with fruit snack wrappers and stray TV remotes, she carried herself with an ineffable poise, one borne of unbounded strength of heart and mind. It was the strength of a woman who was told at a young age that her dream of pursuing physics was inappropriate for girls in her society. It was the strength of a working mother with three young children in a new country after a car accident took her husband away. It was the strength of an immigrant and a surgeon, proving herself to other doctors, believing that her talent and passion would go farther than the color of her skin or the tone of her voice. It was the strength of my Nani, leading with courage, wisdom and faith, believing and pushing others to achieve what might seem impossible––something she had done herself. Most of all, it was the strength of a woman sustained each day of her life on the dream that she could create something better for her family and community.

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My Nani sat with such poise one holiday morning in late 2015 as I waited patiently with a manila envelope in my lap––the opportunity to show my Nani what her dream and her courage had done for me. I will never forget the way she fumbled with the clasp on the envelope, reading the letter softly aloud to herself. I was hinged on her eyes as they scanned back and forth across the page. I have not forgotten the moment she looked up at me, the small tears that welled up in her eyes as she read my acceptance letter to Stanford. I never will.    

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When I think about the way I want to live my life, I think about my Nani. I think of all the hopes and dreams she gave to me, how I carry the weight of her struggles, how the opportunities I have to succeed have made her sacrifices worth it. To me, her love is a bastion of bravery and a power of perspective––reflecting on her perseverance helps me interact confidently and compassionately with the world around me and pushes me to think about how I can empower others. My Nani’s legacy will live forever in the hearts of those she has empowered––her family and beyond. When I think about the way I want to live my life, I think about my Nani, and I sit up a little straighter, hold my head a little higher, and strive for her poise.