There are many ways to learn and good places to teach. My mom chose Convent of the Sacred Heart, an all girls’ school in New York City. We were not the coolest or most competitive school in Manhattan, but if you wanted to send your child to Catholic school, we were the best.
Sacred Heart was a refuge from all the hype and competition in Manhattan. The nuns kept things decidedly low key. The only thing that really bothered me was the uniform. I hated wearing it on the Madison Avenue bus. Uniforms marked social territory, and I preferred to be seen as a regular girl. Senior year my uniform spent every night on the floor of my locker. I put it on before school started. It had a four-inch rip fastened in a line of resistance with safety pins. Not a word from the nuns.
Our commanding principal Mr. Ward manned the school entrance every day, saying, “Good morning!” like it was an order. In place of our uniform, I jeans to school. This was a major uniform violation. Therefore, Mr. Ward gave me detention. That was our routine Monday through Friday. I arrived at detention after school and did homework. Typically, our history teacher Sr. Fox sat in front at a big desk and read the New York Times. That was a good example. She never mentioned the ongoing uniform battle.
Mr. Ward was consistent but also flexible. There were no parent phone calls or meetings about my little rebellion. Then again, he probably knew better than to call my parents. It was bad enough that he had to deal with my mother at school plays or my dad at carpool. My mom was really flamboyant and my dad was a chatterbox. Plus he double-parked.
The nuns at Sacred Heart were gems. Like Mr. Ward, they had a tendency to handle our transgressions with a light touch or no touch at all. They focussed on the big picture, hoping to shape our characters in ways that had nothing to do with rules or uniforms. Our nuns were on a progressive mission to develop liberal thinkers who cared about the whole world. This message took a long time to sink in, but eventually, it did.
Going to an all girls’ school was beside the point and the point. We were separate and therefore equal. We were always heard. I sent my daughter Emma to the only girls’ school in Atlanta. Her years at the Atlanta Girls’ School brought back so many memories of Sacred Heart and finally an appreciation for the experience.
Unity, community, and freedom are girls’ school words. Especially freedom to ask any question, develop your point of view and share it far and wide. These are not small things but rather the foundation for a healthy intellectual life and leadership.
I asked so many questions in math class, but my teachers never got mad. Annoying questions like, “Why?”, and my all-time favorite, “I don’t get it!” My hand was raised so often I should have carried a sling for muscle strain. In chemistry, I tortured my teacher during her explanation of the periodic table of elements because it was entirely outside my intellectual scope. She persisted. We were all plain rude in biology during dissections. With boys in the room, we would have been far less expressive and adventurous.
All my teachers’ hard work paid off my first day of classes at Georgetown University. My hand went up with no hesitation, and I didn’t think twice about calling the president of the university for an interview when I joined the school newspaper. I will always credit my girls’ school education for my initiative. I graduated with the empowering conviction that my voice counted.