It is 11:00 pm in Natchitoches, Louisiana. I am surrounded by around fifty girls I have never met in my life who are from all around the state. We sit in the hot, humid Louisiana air listening to our counselors tell us what tasks await us for day two of the program. Surrounded by unfamiliarity and fear of what this next week holds for me, I finally see a familiar face. We meet our “Parish Counselor” who just so happens to be Episcopal Alumni Mary Beth Barksdale (2016 graduate and all around rock star). I think to myself, “Thank goodness! Someone to tell me what the chaos of the week has in store for me.” Alas, the first words I hear out of her mouth are, “Okay everyone, tomorrow you will be running for one of the offices in your booklet. Write a speech tonight, and be prepared to give it in front of your Parish girls tomorrow.”
Not only was this a bit of a shock to hear on my first night at Louisiana Girls State, but the task in and of itself seemed daunting. I have never been the person with the biggest voice in the room; in fact, I’ve never been the one with the biggest stature either. At a mere five feet, I don’t exactly command a room on first glance. I often find myself in a state of observation, sometimes unable to share my thoughts and opinions during debate or discussion due to my fear of being shut down by others. Knowing this, my first night at Girls State was challenging. I found myself sitting in my dorm room with my roommate trying to come up with a speech that would entice my other Parish girls to vote for me. Nevertheless, I suppressed my fears and pushed on writing my speech. The next day, I mustered up the courage to give my speech, and to my surprise, my peers seemed to like it. I ended up getting enough votes to win the office I ran for. As Girls State continued, more tasks and more opportunities presented themselves, including more public speeches. It was tempting to worry about the possibility of failure, but Mary Beth continuously challenged me to see these as chances to take a risk, as our theatre director Paige Gagliano also teaches us during musical rehearsals at Episcopal. At Girls State I didn’t ultimately get elected to the State position as treasurer, but I wasn’t discouraged. I had the support of my sisters, and I felt empowered by all the women that surrounded me during that week. After this experience, I was truly inspired to make change in my school community by reaching out, taking risks, and by seeking mentors to help me along in the process.
Because Louisiana Girls State fostered confidence within me, I have started taking even more healthy risks in my daily life and looking for these same kinds of confident women here at Episcopal to carry on this legacy of inspiration. I now look to people like Christine Chrest, my thesis advisor, dance teacher, and overall confidant here at Episcopal. She, as the powerful and creative genius that she is, challenges me to experiment with new varieties of dance, take on new styles of choreography, and pushes me to make my writing and work the best it possibly can be. She has not only pushed me as an academic and dancer, but as a person in general. I strive to affect others in the way she has inspired me by helping choreograph Episcopal’s Lower and Middle School musical productions. Although this job has put me in a position to be a role model for younger students, I am not intimidated by the task as I once would have been. In teaching these students, I hope to have even a fraction of the impact on the cast as my mentors have had on me.
If I have learned anything from these experiences, it is that leadership can take place in the littlest of events. Leadership and empowerment are not always expressed as an enlightening speech on a stage or a call to action made by a public figure on the television. It can come from events that you didn’t even expect would make an impact on you. Therefore, it is because of these experiences and connections with people like Mary Beth Barskdale, Paige Gagliano, Christine Chrest, and various other strong women that I have become a more confident and empowered woman who aspires to make change in my community. I have suppressed my fear of speaking out and being shut down, and have allowed myself to be the strong voice in a room.
Madeleine Cope is a creative Episcopal senior. She is a passionate dancer and a member of the Episcopal Dance Ensemble. She is combining her love of dance with her writing talents as an Honors Thesis student examining the benefits of implementing dance programs at schools. Madeleine is also actively involved in Episcopal theater productions and acts as a co-choreographer for Episcopal’s Lower and Middle School musical productions.