Yesterday I facilitated a couple of hours of discussion among about 200 high school seniors, all girls who attend five high schools in the New York City public school system that are special in significant ways. These schools follow a program called the College Bound Initiative (CBI), a year-round comprehensive college guidance program dedicated to getting them into college.
Yesterday was the brainchild of Judy Girard, the Founder of the Food Network, and a fellow Committee of 200 member who enlisted the C200 Foundation to sponsor the event. It was Judy who asked me to run the afternoon program and I was happy to do it. More than 20 other C200 members were on hand as panelists and as facilitators for my afternoon program. One flew in from California, two from Minneapolis, one from St. Louis. We're all convinced that we learned as much from these girls as they did from us.
One of the girls I sat next to in the morning's activities has already been accepted at UC Davis and Gettysburg, but is still hoping to hear from Dartmouth and UCLA. Another I talked with is going to Manhattan College and has gotten a full scholarship. Others will be going to Ivy schools. Many will attend New York colleges. But it appears that all of them will fulfill their dream to get to college.
And if their behavior and attitudes displayed yesterday are any indication of their eventual success, these girls are bound for glory.
They jumped into the role play with gusto and shared their conclusions with the whole group. The C200 member at each table facilitated the discussion, sharing tips from her own background and the struggles she overcame on the road to her ultimate success as a business leader. The girls loved the exercise and they demonstrated that they are tough in the best sense of the word. Their advice as "counselor/advisers" was exemplary of tough love (in response to a question about a girl who feels guilty about leaving behind her older sister stuck in a dead-end job, one said "You have to do this on your own, even if it leaves your sister behind. In fact, by your example you might get her off her butt so that she decides to go to college, too!"). They are determined to succeed, are well aware of the odds against that probability and determined to overcome them. They are strivers and they will persevere, supported by loving families--in some cases a single parent--behind them.
And they are conversationalists with a capital C. They look you in the eye, they engage, they have opinions and are not shy about sharing them.
This NYC public school program makes me proud to be a New Yorker. And a member of the Committee of 200. And I'm totally impressed by the people at the Young Women's Leadership Network, a 501 C3, that make the whole thing work. Isabelle Bartlome, the Swiss intern at my firm who assisted in yesterday's program said later, "You would never see anything like this in Switzerland. All these senior businesswomen so eager to help these young girls, and the amazing advice the girls got from them...that's unusual." Actually, it's unusual here, too.
The Young Women's Leadership Network has a great story to tell. And these girls are living proof theat the effort in building this narrative is worth it.