The Plaid is Magical

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An alumna’s perspective and experience. Thank you Sarah Owen, Class of ’09 who came back to address potential Academy Girls at our Fall Open House…video here of her speech!

Good afternoon, everyone! Thank you so much for taking time from your busy weekend to attend the first Maine Girls’ Academy (or MGA) Open House! My name is Sarah Owen, McAuley alum class of 2009. And, I am the big sister of Lindsay Owen, McAuley alum, class of 2013. Today, I live in Boston and work as a Faculty Assistant at Harvard Business School.

Before I jump in and tell you about my life-changing McAuley experience, I have to say: what keeps our amazing community connected is the plaid. We call ourselves bad in plaid. I am sure any senior out there will agree, the plaid is magical: it’s your ticket to a judgement-free outfit environment, it gets you more sleep in the morning (hit snooze – you don’t have to plan an outfit!), it can even serve as an emergency napkin at lunch.   Years since graduation, I still find this plaid, on occasion, able to lift me out of sorrow and always remind me of my sense of belonging and love from and for my Plaid sisters.

My McAuley journey started long before I enrolled as a student here. I played basketball in middle school and attended then, McAuley’s summer Basketball Camp. I was blown away by our coaches, the basketball team, themselves. They were the coolest girls I had ever met — so smart, sometimes goofy, naturally beautiful girls who always walked tall. I lacked confidence as a middle schooler and was an average student, at best. To be honest, I didn’t enjoy school. Instead of getting extra help from teachers in the subjects in which I was weak, I was put in special ed. classes, and that did a number on my self-esteem. As a camper at the Summer Basketball camp, it occurred to me that these incredible girls must love school if they chose to spend their summers taking the time to coach us, here. There must be something about this place, I thought. So, I decided to apply and eventually to attend McAuley because I was inspired by the confidence that I saw in my coaches.

I fell in love with the School right away. My teachers had so much energy for the courses they taught, and they believed in us.  If I struggled with a certain chapter in Algebra, for example,  Ms. Schellenbach or Mrs. French would work with me for an extra hour before or after school. In my first semester, I developed a plan, about which I told no one: to work hard and to earn the best grades I could. I was determined to prove to myself and to those around me that I am smart. I earned straight A’s my first year – a huge accomplishment that was only the beginning of my journey at a school that helped cultivate and grow my confidence.  After my first year, I not only took but succeeded in honors and Advanced Placement classes. My teachers and mentors offered me opportunities for challenges because they recognized my strengths and they could see my capabilities. They believed in me. So, I grew to believe in myself.  I began to strive for, rather than settle for…  

Fast forward 12 years and here we are. I work at Harvard Business School and am loving it. Harvard is making great progress in creating a more gender-balanced group of faculty and students. I was assigned to a group of five faculty members my first year in my role:  4/5 faculty are male. I bring this up because the success I have had in my role is completely tied to the skills I honed while attending McAuley.  When you develop McAuley-MGA confidence, you develop skills that you utilize in any group your whole life long.  Moreover, this school opens one to a wide range of cultures – as a student here, your appreciation for cultural diversity only grows and becomes ingrained in you. It became ingrained in me and it remains a big part of my life to this day. McAuley encouraged me to use my voice to advocate for others, to speak up for myself, and to share ideas with my classmates and teammates.

(Question to audience) Speaking of teammates… Who watched the Olympics this past summer? (Raise hand!)

Let’s look at a few of the powerhouse girls who dominated for USA in their sports. If you were like me, I was glued to swimmer Katie Ledecky; then, there’s  “the Final Five” gymnastic girls… While I may not have lots in common with these Olympians, athletically (At best, I can do forward rolls), here is what we do have in common:  As girls, we made “the decision” to put ourselves first by choosing environments in which we could and would create the best versions of ourselves. Ledecky, herself, attended an all girls’ school and a few of the The Final Five girls were homeschooled. They chose to spend their growing up years with teachers or tutors, with coaches and teammates and, of course, with their families. Just look at how that time to focus has paid off! In and out of the pool, or the gym, they glow!

…By focusing on our own dreams here at MGA, so do we. I look at where McAuley/MGA confidence has taken my sister and my friends: my sister, Lindsay, has interned in New York City at Vera Wang and now at NBC Universal (the girl hasn’t graduated college yet and she’s sitting in 30 Rock!) My friend, Meghan and I both work for Harvard; our friend, Paige, works for Senator Collins in DC.  Another  friend, Hannah works in Denver as a psychometrist, and then there is Macauley (yes, Macauley went to McAuley!) who is teaching for MIT in Singapore. Our lives have taken us down so many different paths, but our successes are due to the incredible four years we spent here – where we were constantly supported and encouraged to be our best.

Thank you all, again, for coming today; I sincerely hope you will join our MGA family. You will make friends who turn into sisters, you will meet teachers who turn into lifelong mentors and you will learn how to best achieve your own gold medals.