During our all-school Morning Reports, we have the opportunity for community members to give inspirational speeches during a segment called Works in Progress. These talks vary in theme from silly to serious and all points in between. Regardless of the topic, our community members are adept at discovering profound inspiration in all aspects of life. In this speech, Head of Enrollment Management Kristen A. Mariotti shares her reflections on the impact of traveling to new places.
As I sit on a flight heading north tonight I am still fascinated by wifi on airplanes. The fact that I can work and stay in touch from just about anywhere in the world, including 30,000 feet in the air, just blows my mind. To the students of today, this is a given. They are accustomed to so much more than I was in high school. I’ve told the same story to my advisees over and over through the years about writing all of my college papers on a Brother Word Processor (an electric typewriter), how I didn’t have an email address until I was 20 years old, and how somehow I traveled in a car from Connecticut to Arizona for graduate school and did not own a cellphone, or a GPS, or even a google map printout. I called my parents from pay phones and actually read a big and cumbersome map while exploring my country beyond the Mason Dixon line for the first time. Things were different then and some things seemed more meaningful without all the gadgets and technology we have today. And though I am a generally a fan of the advances that have been made which allow us to keep in touch easier with those who are far away, that help shrink this giant world into a much smaller place, I still believe in traveling, definitely with GPS and cell phone, to explore new places, people, and cultures as often as I am able!
I was thinking about all this today as I logged into my email from an airplane, having just completed a whirlwind admission travel season that spanned many parts of the United States and the world. What the travel season taught me most this year is that folks pretty much want the same things for their children whether they are from Troy, NY or Bangkok, Thailand (and all the places in between). They want their kids to be challenged, cared for, safe, and happy. Yes, they also want them to attend good colleges and take tough classes, but overall they just want their child to feel a sense of belonging, excited about learning, and supported and seen. It’s the same thing my parents wanted over 30 years ago when I entered high school and I am sure this is what your families want for you.
And speaking of high school: I attended a small public school in Connecticut where just about every student looked like me and had similar life experiences to me. It was not until college that I was able to experience education in a diverse environment, and not until I was nearly 30 years old when I went overseas for the first time and experienced new countries and cultures. My first big international trip was from New York to Beijing, China. After a nearly 20 hour journey I arrived at my hotel, immediately called my husband on Skype and just started crying. I was so overwhelmed by being so far from home in a country where I did know the language, didn’t understand the currency, and definitely stood out as an American. Once I calmed down, that is when everything changed for me and I knew from my first day in beautiful Beijing that I had the travel bug and would try to visit as many countries as possible from then on! At this point I have been to 38 but there are still so many left to explore.
Finally, and probably the most meaningful lesson I have learned from traveling is that visiting the countries, cities, villages, and towns from which our students come is incredibly important. Not just to find more talented students like you, but to begin to understand the cultures and experiences members of our community so vastly represent and identify with.
Although Emma has not been able to connect in this way during the pandemic, we are eager to return to the states and countries that represent our amazing community when we are able. The diversity, cultures, and lived experiences of each of the students at this school is what makes us a better and stronger community. It is never lost on me how lucky I am to be among you all.
Honoring its founder’s vision, Emma Willard School proudly fosters in each young woman a love of learning, the habits of an intellectual life, and the character, moral strength, and qualities of leadership to serve and shape her world.