How My All-Girl's Education Empowered Me to Be the Person I Want to Be

I went to an all-girls high school where their mission was to not only educate but to help develop young women’s leadership skills and make the world a better place. My school provided instruction that not only taught us a great curriculum, but also the important role of women in developing that curriculum. Through their teaching, they created an environment that motivates students to strive for nothing less than success. 

Some people may criticize the pedagogy as putting students into a bubble and shutting out the outside world, and during my sophomore year of high school, my bubble burst for the first time. 

Before high school, I had no intention of going to an all-girls school but once I set foot there, I knew it was where I belonged. I Immediately noticed how happy and confident the students around me seemed. They carried themselves with such poise, yet they were so friendly. I went on a tour and met a bunch of teachers that I could tell really love what they do and would push me to excel. I knew this school would push me in ways that no one has before. 

History was taught with an additional lesson about the role of women in that particular time period. English included discussions about the evolution of societal roles among all people. Math classes encouraged women to go into STEM fields. I did not believe, at any point in my life, that women were seen as less than equal to men. How could I when I was surrounded by so many strong female motivators? Those feelings abruptly ended when I joined debate club my sophomore year. 

Our first topic was about whether public subsidies for professional athletic organizations in the United States are beneficial to their local communities. My partner and I ventured into this new experience extremely excited to start coming up with loads of evidence, thinking we had compelling and creative cases for both sides. The first round went fairly well, but the second was a completely different story, as we were up against an all-boys team. Right off the bat, the boys’ team claimed I did not have a right to talk about sports because I am a girl. Out of all the arguments they could possibly make, why was this their go-to? Generally, teams who say anything perceived to be derogatory during rounds are given a score of a 22 (or below) out of 30 and automatically lose. However, their score was a 26/30 and there was not a single mention of the offensive comment on the ballot sheet. 

I wish I could say that was the worst comment I heard during my time on the team. I was told to smile more during rounds because it was “lady-like.” I heard multiple times from other teams and judges: “I did not expect those two to be good,” based on our looks. But my favorite comment? That I should be nicer in rounds because my “hostile attitude makes me appear bitchy.” I don’t know of a single man that ever got called “bitchy” on a ballot. These labels created an environment filled with confusion and anger. I have never felt more distant from the message my school taught us than I did then. 

Halfway through the year, there was an open house for newly accepted students. I was volunteering in a classroom and it was going pretty well until a potential student asked a tough question: “Why all girls?” If she had asked this the year before, I would easily be able to answer, but now I was unsure. Yes, this place made me feel empowered, but no matter how my school nurtured me, the talents that I once believed could get me anywhere were now overshadowed by my gender. Luckily, a teacher stepped in to answer. She urged us to take a look at local co-ed high schools. Most did not have a single woman on their notable alumni list. One, in particular, had been co-ed for about 50 years and boasted only two notable alumni: a game show host and a news anchor. 

Later, I looked up my school’s alumnae. They had CEOs, CFOs, US ambassadors, justices of the New York Supreme Court, the president of ABC, and even more notable women. It was incredible, all they had accomplished. This made me realize how truly lucky I am. These women have achieved such highly respected professions because of what they were taught. They had a great education, but more than that, they had a backbone. These women not only overcame the nature of sexism but also helped foster a world in which women can thrive just as equally as men. They were smart and strong enough to ignore those who said they could not succeed. They accomplished their goals during times when these positions were even more exclusive toward women than they are today. 

I took this knowledge with me for the rest of my competitions. My partner and I made it to States and later to nationals. We were the only females in the Brooklyn-Queens division that year to qualify. I did not care what other teams or ignorant judges said to me or my partner, they were just opinions. I wanted to continue to be like the alumnae that beat the odds. It is important for every woman to know they are going to hit roadblocks and discrimination along the way to success, but using that negativity as a driver and turning to empowered females to push us will help us come out on top. Empowered women empower women!