As the father of four daughters I have a significant investment in ensuring they feel fully empowered to fulfill their dreams and goals. I confess to being strongly influenced in this endeavor by the fact that for all of my life I have been surrounded by confident women whose drive, capabilities and competence could not be denied. The most compelling example is my own mother who was a flight mechanic in the Royal Air Force during WWII working on Spitfires. Jessie was feisty, knew her stuff and would never let any “flyboy pilot” tell her when a plane was or was not ready for duty.
I give this background because I recently experienced a remarkable weekend where I attended the celebration of the 125th anniversary of private all-girl school, pre K through 12, called –The Baldwin School. My partner, Cheryl, is a former student and was returning for a re-union with her classmates. Baldwin is located in Bryn Maw near Philadelphia.
Although it is true that the majority of students come from privileged backgrounds, I prefer not to debate those obvious advantages but rather share the story of an environment where women are left with no doubt as to their ability to go as far as they want in this world. It is important to note that 25% of the students come from economically disadvantaged backgrounds and are on scholarships. The diversity in the student body is also significant.
Amongst the most enjoyable experiences of the weekend was an invitation to attend a class of current students in action. We chose a drama class in which several well-known plays were being discussed by a group of seniors. Rather than observe from the back of the room, the teacher sat us with the students so we could participate in the dialog. The rigor and depth of conversation left us trying to remember whether we were as confident at that age.
There is no greater gift and outcome from the formative years of our education than to feel confident in our abilities and the possibilities for our lives. With confidence we are willing to take the risks to live the lives we imagine for ourselves. With confidence we tackle life’s challenges with the belief that we can handle them.
In the many conversations that transpired with past graduates, it was clear that not everyone had a totally positive high school experience. However, it was also clear that the brand promise: Accomplished Women – Interesting Lives, was being delivered successfully over and over again. Whether the accomplishments had gained public notoriety or not, and many had, each woman agreed that they graduated knowing that there was a special place in the world for each of them and the only barrier to an “interesting life” was themselves.
An awards ceremony honoring three former students also made a deep impression as it demonstrated the value placed on encouraging students to make a difference in the world. One honoree is a professor at the University of Cambridge and is one of the world’s leading experts on molecular biology. Another started a manufacturing company in Nevada serving the aerospace industry and has created over 400 well-paying jobs. The third is a lawyer working in The Innocence Project whose focus is proving the innocence of prisoners unjustly convicted for crimes they did not commit.
My own daughters have experienced both private and public education. Fortunately each of the institutions that shaped them set high standards. The word education, however, comes from the Latin “educare” meaning to “draw out.” The ultimate purpose of education, therefore, is to draw out our gifts, talents and abilities and direct us to a path where we have the best chance to live a productive and rewarding life.
The weekend at Baldwin reminded me of what a powerful purpose that is!