I sit in the back of Waldo Auditorium because I’m eager to watch, but I don’t want to add to the bubbling anxiety of the 10 candidates sitting in the front row, as they nervously fiddle with their speeches. It’s mid-April and it’s election season at Dana Hall, and the ninth grade is about to hear from this group of aspiring class leaders.
April, for me, is filled with optimism: the sun is out, newly-accepted students are touring Dana Hall, and so many students are thinking about the next school year and about how they want to lead in our community. For me, this time of year highlights the best aspects of the Dana Hall community, especially when it comes to girls and leadership. However, to me, it’s more than the carefully thought out applications and earnest speeches, it is watching how these elections unfold.
Waldo is filled with nervous giggles, loud cheers, big “I-can’t-help-but-smile” smiles, and supportive (and appropriately-timed) laughter. Inevitably, the speeches contain the formulaic “Hi, my name is [insert name], but I’m pretty sure you all know me as the girl who [insert awkward incident in class meeting or characteristic behavior in Physics class],” as well as a some “proof” that they have leadership capabilities based on experience at previous schools or in other leadership roles. But beyond the speech that could have been borrowed from a beloved, teen-centered Disney Channel show, there is also a thread of similarities that I see as “so Dana.” The aspirations of these future leaders is a strong desire to unite the class, to connect everyone despite quirkiness and difference (boarding/day, international/domestic, or any other variety of identifiers), and to create harmony.
I recognize that these goals of collaboration, consensus-building, and connection are strongly female and they fit perfectly in Dana Hall’s model of “co-” leadership. At Dana, we have co-presidents for each class, as opposed to a president and vice president, and co-heads of clubs and organizations, which emphasizes the shared responsibility of leaders instead of setting up a hierarchy. I also think this model of shared responsibility extends beyond the elected positions. Our students and leaders have a genuine desire to bring together the whole group (class, club, team) for a shared purpose and as one entity. As one candidate said in her speech: “we are not a class of multiple cliques, we are like family.” Another expressed her gratitude for the class and talked about how she is “proud of how far we have come.”
More impressively, this strong desire for unity does not mean that these candidates want to erase individuality. There is an authentic desire to embrace differences — a “blended family” as one candidate put it. In fact, one can look at the array of candidates. They represent different countries and states, different backgrounds and ethnicities, different interests and experiences. As one Student Council candidate stated: “no one will judge you for being who you are.” She admitted this was cliché, but true — and I agree.
One step further than embracing difference, was a genuine encouragement of voice, perspective, and growth. “You guys matter, and so do your opinions.” “This is me stepping out of my comfort zone and I want to encourage everyone to do the same.” “We too often hear people’s self-deprecation, we should empower everyone’s opinions.” “You may see me as the shy girl, but this is meaningful to me and I want to be supportive of everyone.” And, my personal favorite, “I may be short, but I can make a good bridge.” These girls feel energized by truly knowing one another, celebrating different perspectives, and uplifting each other.
The love and the sisterhood is real. And I can’t help but be optimistic about our future.