Empowering Experiences at Boarding Schools for Girls

One alumna's personal story of growth and success

all-girls-boarding-school-laurel-street
Laurel Street

If I were to distill everything I learned at Chatham Hall into one word, it would be character. Sure, I learned how to manage my time, how to establish myself in a new place, and how to live away from home; but more than anything, attending an all-girls boarding school shaped my character. My alma mater, with its rolling hills and old brick buildings, years-old traditions and beloved Honor Code, has been woven into the fabric of who I’ve become.

I stepped onto campus as a shy freshman, unsure of herself and unsure of the world, and graduated as a confident young adult with friends who always had my back, faculty who never stopped challenging me, and a community who continually loved and supported me. Chatham Hall taught me to explore new passions, to embrace my individuality, to become a truer version of myself.

One of our faculty members gave me this simple, yet profound, piece of advice: “Find something you love … and become an expert at it.” Whether academic pursuits or hobbies, I learned to pursue my passions with gusto.

The culture of Chatham Hall fostered my desire to constantly challenge myself and grow. With some encouragement from our academic advisor and the help of our financial manager, I self-studied Advanced Placement Economics. After joining the cross country team and falling in love with running, our coach helped me develop a training plan for my first marathon, which I ran with a couple other Chatham Hall girls.

Now that I’ve graduated from college, this principle of becoming an expert at what I love has taken shape in my professional life. I’m always challenging myself to read, to ask questions, to learn from leaders at work and thought leaders in my field.

I learned to challenge my thinking patterns, to seek out and value viewpoints from people with backgrounds different than my own.

Some of my favorite high school memories were sitting in the library discussing challenging theological ideas, and learning about the effects of urban sprawl in Human Geography, over a cup of hot tea. Chatham Hall’s culture was conducive to discussing issues openly and honestly--and these discussions carried on beyond the classroom. I loved that our campus was so diverse. I loved having the chance to learn from my friends’ wide variety of experiences. As a young adult, I continue to seek out friendships with people whose backgrounds and perspectives are different than mine.

I found my voice while I was at Chatham Hall, both figuratively and literally. As a freshman at boarding school, I was nervous to even speak up in class, let alone in front of a large group of people. But over the years, I learned to embrace boldness, to carry myself with confidence, and to speak with sureness. I grew from a bumbling ninth grader to a confident senior, who loved leading assemblies and addressing the student body and faculty. I learned to navigate complex situations, to deliver bad news, to encourage other students, to lift up others as I led. I learned to lead with confidence, compassion and conviction.

The high standard of integrity embodied by our school was ingrained into my moral compass. The Honor Code defined almost everything we did; it was the framework on which our community was built. I remember our chaplain telling me that when he first started working at Chatham Hall, he was skeptical that the Honor Code was all it was cracked up to be. He took it upon himself to conduct a simple experiment: he placed a $20 bill beside the “sign-out book,” a book students had to sign each time they left or returned to campus. It was a prime location; in any given week, almost every student in the school would see the cash lying there. He checked back after the $20 bill had been there 24 hours… still there. 48 hours… still there. Finally, after a week had gone by, it finally went missing. Just when he started to think his experiment may have raised suspicions about the Honor Code, an announcement was made that whoever lost $20 needs to go claim it at the front desk.

I have to admit, it took me a while to get used to a world without an honor code after I left Chatham Hall. My first week in college, I was studying in the school library. I packed up my things and started walking back to my dorm when I realized I had forgotten my laptop charger at the desk where I was studying. I returned to the library to find out it had already been stolen … in less than 10 minutes. It took me a while to adjust back to a daily life void of the Honor Code, and to realize how unique it is for a community to operate with such a strong sense of integrity and respect for one another.

Now that I’ve left Chatham Hall, I still carry the Honor Code with me. I hold myself to a high standard of personal integrity. One of our teachers used to always tell us, “Do what’s right, not what’s easy.” I tell myself that all the time. Our Honor Code also taught me to always assume the best. When someone’s integrity was called into question, the community always gave that person opportunities to come forth and be honest. In my personal life, I strive to give people the benefit of the doubt. When something appears to be out of line with their character, I assume there is an explanation I don’t know about yet.

With our culture of honor and tradition came one of the most tight-knit communities I’ve ever been part of. Through Cooking Club Sundays and advisory group outings, a school became a family. As an alumna, I’m part of a group of women who share the Chatham Hall experience. I’ve had the opportunity to travel and meet up with Chatham Hall alumnae around the world. From Seoul to Aberdeen to Shanghai and Beijing, these have been the sweetest reunions. I love that I share a legacy with so many other incredible people who make up the Chatham Hall story.