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2011-2012: Courageous and Enlightened Leadership

Convocation Remarks by Head of School Elizabeth J. McGregor

As we look to the year ahead, I’d like us all to think about how we can be courageous and enlightened leaders and how we can be our best, bold selves!

The words “courageous” and “enlightened” are certainly rather large words, and they are definitely “value-laden” words. They are part of the stated vision of our school, and an important part of the legacy of leadership and service that has been handed down from one generation of Westridge student to the next.

What do you think of when you hear the word courageous?

I think of someone who is brave. Someone who even though she might be anxious or fearful, can reach deep down inside herself to a core of integrity and determination, so that she can be the best, bold person that she can be. Someone who can stand up for what she believes in, someone who can dream, someone who can be vulnerable, and as you have heard me say before, someone who is not afraid to take risks and can embrace a “Growth Mindset.”

Of course you can be courageous in truly enormous ways. Just think of the life work of Nelson Mandela, and of Mahatma Gandhi, who truly lived by the expression “Be the change that you most want to see in the world!”

But you can be courageous about small things as well. You know that fear, that niggling feeling you sometimes have when things just don’t feel good? Maybe your friends are doing something unsafe or unwise and you don’t quite know what to do. Or you are witnessing something that doesn’t look right? When you find yourself in these situations, try to be your best, bold self.

Be courageous!

Take a leadership stand and speak out for what you believe is the right thing to do.

And you can practice acts of courage …maybe even memorize this wonderful quote: “Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the little voice at the end of the day that says I’ll try again tomorrow.” (Mary Anne Radmacher)

What do you think of when you hear the word “enlightened?”

You can certainly hear the word “light” in the middle of it – and it certainly can have something to do with shedding light on something so that you can see it more clearly and better understand it.

When I think of the word enlightened, I think of the spiritual side of life coming together with the intellectual side of life. I think it’s when the heart and the mind work together.

I believe that an enlightened leader inspires others, cares for them, and wants to make a difference. When we experience enlightened leadership we are “more aware of goodness, love and compassion” and can be “more open to intuition, creativity and insight.” (Deepak Chopra)

These characteristics are often considered to be the feminine qualities of leadership – but I would argue that these are the qualities that we all need to embody, whether we are male or female, for they are the leadership qualities that the world most needs if we are truly going to make a difference.

I also believe that the enlightened leader is reflective, actively seeks to understand, and is a life-long learner, engaged in intellectual pursuits. And for this, nothing is better suited than a liberal arts education.

This was really brought home to me earlier this summer when I heard Lawrence Bacow, the retiring president of Tufts University, defend a liberal arts education – he very firmly noted that a liberal arts education is even more important today, especially for today’s leaders, for without a deep understanding of history, and philosophy, and religion, and science, how can they begin to understand, for example, the current battle between religious fundamentalism and more liberal ways of thinking and doing.

Another question: What is the path that you, our students, can take to become courageous and enlightened leaders?

A number of years ago, someone I respect turned to me and said, if you wrote an autobiography of yourself as a leader, what would it say?

I had never really thought like this before – and it was a wonderful exercise in contemplation.

I realized that my leadership journey had begun at school. And coming from a British school system, it was all very Harry Potterish! I had always volunteered to be a “book monitor” or “paper monitor” in elementary school; I had become a prefect in high school, a house captain, a leader of one of the vocal sections of the school choir, a team captain of various athletics teams, and even Head Girl. I’d also held leadership positions in the Girl Scout movement (or what we called the Girl Guides). But it wasn’t listing these positions that was enlightening, it was asking myself why I had volunteered or what it was that other people had seen in me that had made them suggest that I take on these various leadership roles – large or small.

My journey was based on deeply held convictions – most often based on the desire to help others – animals, children, and causes about which I was passionate – as well as a definite need to see things accomplished. And the way I acted as a leader was often very different to the top-down model of taking charge and telling someone what to do (although my sister and brother will probably still dispute this and say that I was always the bossy older sister!).

Most often my leadership was what is referred to as “relational” – based on relationships – being a good listener, a collaborator, seeking consensus when possible, calming people down when they were overly anxious or concerned.

I also wanted to make a difference in the world. But this alone was not enough, for as I travelled to different continents, I also learned how one’s upbringing and culture shape one’s perceptions – and how important it is to seek to understand another’s point of view, to stand in someone else’s shoes, trying to see it from their perspective, before making a decision for them based on experiences that might not have any relevance to them at all.

I think people saw in me someone who cared, listened, had integrity, made decisions with regard to what seemed best for the common good, worked to make sure that things happened, changed course when necessary, and did not need to be the center of attention.

And when I looked back over my old report cards where many of these things are listed, I realized that a sense of humor and not taking myself too seriously, were also very important factors!
I would imagine that many of you recognize something of yourselves in the character traits I have just described. Unfortunately, there are not too many research studies that have focused on girls and leadership, but a survey conducted by the Girl Scout Research Institute within the past 5 years discovered that a large sampling of girls think that the following are the top ten characteristics for being a good leader:

1. Having a positive attitude
2. Being a good listener
3. Being confident
4. Being able to speak well to a group
5. Being good at what you do
6. Being kind
7. Being a role model
8. Being a team player
9. Involving many different types of people
10. Being fun!

Or to sum it up in the words of the Girl Scout Leaders: “Preferred definitions imply personal principles, ethical behavior, and the ability to effect social change … it’s an aspirational type of leadership.” (GSRI, 2007, p. 8)

How can we make sure that you, our students, find ways to practice courageous and enlightened leadership?

It can certainly start at home – parents are a huge influence. Research indicates a close correlation (relationship) between a mother’s own ambitions, outlook on life and leadership, with her daughter’s aspirations for leadership. And I firmly believe, based on my experience with my father, and watching my husband’s relationship with our two daughters, that behind most confident girls is a father who believes in her and supports her unconditionally.

Knowing that social acceptance is very important to girls, it will also come as no surprise to learn that girls feel much more comfortable taking risks and adopting leadership positions in all girls’ environments. Or, that girls who have attended all-girls schools are much more likely to assume leadership roles in their careers and communities than their peers who go to co-ed schools.

When you think more deeply about your own leadership path or autobiography, it’s also really helpful to reflect on the qualities of someone you admire as a courageous and enlightened leader.

Perhaps someone famous from history – such as Marie Curie, Susan B. Anthony or Rosa Parks. Perhaps a more contemporary figure, such as Jane Goodall, or one of the ten women who were honored by Hilary Clinton and the State Department on March 8 this year – the 100th Anniversary of International Women’s Day – when each received a “Women of Courage Award” for “the heroic work that they have done to advance freedom, equality, opportunity, and dignity for all.”

It could be someone in the world of performing arts or a member of this summer’s women’s world cup soccer team! Maybe someone who is a leader in your neighborhood, or within your own family, or even here at Westridge.

I asked Mrs. Potter in our advancement office (no relation to Harry by the way) who she thinks of when she considers the courageous, enlightened leaders who are members of our alumnae family – women who attended Westridge as young girls a number of years ago. She immediately named Helen Hastings Murphy, Class of 1967, a nurse practitioner and medical researcher, whose pioneering work in new treatments in oral rehydration, and provision of health services to refugees in the camps of Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines and Pakistan, resulted in her being honored with the Mary Lowther Ranney Distinguished Alumna Award in 1999.

And she thought of Polly Williams, Class of 1984, who as president of the United Friends of Children dedicated herself to helping Los Angels County’s foster children develop skills for independent life.

When I asked Coach Horn, she excitedly recapped what she believes is the best example of courageous and enlightened leadership in athletics for a number of years – from the CIF-SS Division IV-AA Volleyball playoffs in 2006. The Tigers were playing Village Christian in the semifinals, were down 2 games and then rallied to tie 2-2 and advance to the 5th game. The game was back and forth, point by point and then the Tigers slipped behind. Sophomore Katrina Post was up to serve when the Tigers were down 12-14 in the 5th game (the game ends at 15 points). Katrina calmly and boldly continued to serve until the Tigers won the game and advanced!! Without her best, bold serving, we would not have won the CIF Championship that year!

For Dr. Shoemaker, Director of Upper School, it’s the Upper School student leaders who have planned leadership events throughout the year who immediately come to mind.

For Ms. Caron, Director of Middle School, it’s the two middle school students who designed the Mudd Lounge for the full community to use, the carwash 7th grade students hosted to raise money for a cause that they learned about in their English class, the students who organized their peers and teachers in a dance celebration for Diwali, and the 8th grade students who shared their concern about violence and bullying due to sexual orientation, and encouraged their peers to wear purple to raise awareness for this inequity.

And for Mrs. Tuck, Director of Lower School, it’s also student leadership, with the Lower School Student Council and other students leading the way with service learning activities.

When we leave this gathering today, I’d like each one of you, our students, to think about how you would like to have your leadership biography written – will it demonstrate acts of courage, large and small, and a quest for enlightenment? Will you be able to say, that you have tried to be your best, bold self!

And will we, the adults in the community, be able to say that we have worked together to support these efforts?

Now going back to my Girls Scout days, I’d like to lead us all in a pledge (LS students have already had a preview during their orientation on Monday):

Please place your hand over your hearts and repeat after me:

I promise,

That I will be,

A courageous

And enlightened leader

And be

My best,

Bold self!



Dweck, Carol S. Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. New York, N.Y.; Ballantine Books, 2006.

Pink, Daniel H. Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. New York, N.Y.; Penguin Group, 2009.

Shaprio, Fred. R., ed. The Yale Book of Quotations. New Haven and London; Yale University Press, 2006.

Web sites:

“Change It Up: What Girls Say About Redefining Leadership” A Report from the Girls Scout Research Institute. Girl Scouts, 2008.

Elkin, Ali. “Deepak Chopra Teaches 2-Day Kellog Class.” The Daily Northwestern. 13 August, 2009.

“Exploring Girls’ Leadership.” Research Review. Girl Scouts, 2007.

Goudreau, Jenna. “Deepak Chopa On Enlightened Leadership.” Forbes. 12 January 2011.

“The Case for Girls’ Schools.” National Coalition of Girls’ Schools.

“2011 International Women of Courage Awards Ceremony.” U.S. Department of State Diplomacy in Action. 8 March 2011.

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