Hewitt’s Lunch and Learn series invites guest speakers to campus for intimate conversations with upper school students about how to connect their current interests to possible future careers. The series welcomes speakers, including Hewitt alumnae, from a variety of professional fields, giving current students the opportunity to learn and ask questions about careers they might not have even known existed. These talks also allow alumnae to give back to the Hewitt community and connect with current students. Since our first alumnae Lunch and Learn back in the fall of 2019, I have seen the faces of our visiting graduates light up when they step into the library and watched as they prolong their departures to drop by classrooms and chat with their former teachers.
In March 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic forced Hewitt to shift to remote learning, many of our traditions, celebrations, and small, daily interactions — like fist-bumping Mr. Malone every morning or going out for a walk or snack with friends — changed. Hewitt’s administration and teachers worked tirelessly to ensure a sense of normalcy for the community by reimagining and redesigning activities for online spaces and providing time for students and teachers to check-in on each other via video chats. Throughout the spring, Hewitt adapted to and persevered through the challenges of leading, teaching, and learning online. The community’s positive attitude toward working together online confirmed my decision to continue the Lunch and Learn series even though we couldn’t gather in person. In fact, I saw this shift to virtual gatherings as an opportunity to invite a broader range of speakers to the program.
Before we transitioned to online events, I could only invite alumnae who were geographically close to New York City to be Lunch and Learn speakers. However, the opportunity to hold these events online meant speakers could join us from anywhere in the world. As the reach of our community expanded with technology, I had the pleasure of inviting Chelsea Gardner ’16, a beloved member of the Hewitt community, to speak with students and faculty for our first online alumnae Lunch and Learn event. Though technology made it possible for me to host Chelsea's Lunch and Learn online, it presented a unique challenge as our Google Hangouts call started with technical difficulties. It would not be a proper video call without them! For some reason, attendees could not hear Chelsea, a necessary feature for the talk she was about to give. While she did some troubleshooting, current students and teachers made the most of their time by talking about the legacy Chelsea left behind at Hewitt and the impact she had on our school.
Performing arts faculty member Daniel Denver noted the impression Chelsea made on Hewitt as a compassionate, strong leader who “put herself in every corner of our school” and made herself available to peers who wanted to talk or needed someone to listen. Head of Upper School and Assistant Head of School Elizabeth Stevens expressed her gratitude for Chelsea’s strength, courage, and empathy, sharing that she was “a part of the community while building it.” Hewitt’s Experiential Initiatives Coordinator Stephanie Dore spoke of Chelsea’s admirable bravery, commitment, and fearlessness as she worked for what she believed in. Finally, Head of School Dr. Tara Christie Kinsey recalled Chelsea’s dedicated and genuine leadership during her year as Hewitt’s student council president.
Once the technical difficulties were resolved, upper school students in the Lunch and Learn meeting were eager to hear what Chelsea had to say about her experience at Hewitt and at the University of Pennsylvania, where she was a member of the class of 2020. She shared that when she entered Hewitt in seventh grade she felt empowered by the curriculum, which was influenced by feminist ideas that inspired confident, intelligent young women. She also appreciated that Hewitt’s student community felt like a sisterhood, and that the faculty encouraged students to become the best versions of themselves and contribute to a better world. In recalling her years at Hewitt, Chelsea also spoke about how, as a young Black woman in a predominantly white institution, she came to understand the way intersectionality impacted her experiences. As Chelsea said in her TEDxYouth Talk, “My race and gender are central to my identity, and without them, I wouldn’t be who I am today.” Throughout her time at Hewitt, she involved her teachers and peers in ongoing discussions about intersectionality and identity.
Chelsea was optimistic about Hewitt’s ability to change and grow. One example of this change was her role in student government. Although having a Black student council president doesn’t necessarily ensure diverse perspectives, eliminate microaggressions, or solve racial injustice, Chelsea felt her time in that leadership position was a step in the right direction. Her election affirmed that she and her peers shared common understandings and experiences despite their differences in race and identity. Furthermore, she felt empowered by her position and saw it as an opportunity to inspire younger girls and women of color at Hewitt to see themselves as school leaders, and to model for all students and faculty the value that a president of color brought to our school community.
Chelsea’s experience as student council president helped her define her personal leadership style. She knew that one “should never feel like a leader just because of a title” and chose to spend her time in student government building relationships with and providing mentorship to her peers. She learned from and listened to younger students just as much as she did older students or teachers. During the Lunch and Learn conversation, Chelsea’s mention of gathering in the stacks room (an extension of our library that also served an unofficial student lounge during Chelsea’s time at Hewitt) prompted an enthusiastic, fond reaction from the audience of students who remembered the conversations they had there with Chelsea years ago. This moment confirmed that her peers remember Chelsea as a role model who used her genuineness, compassion, and respect for others' voices to lead.
During her time in Hewitt’s upper school, Chelsea’s schedule was full and demanding. She wrote for The Hewitt Times; participated in clubs including ACTION (a group of students dedicated to engaging the community in dialogue and actions that address multiple aspects of identity and current events) and Spectrum (a group of allies who learn, teach, and celebrate LGBTQ+ history and work to spread acceptance in the Hewitt community); played basketball; and explored courses that challenged her. Chelsea’s transition to the University of Pennsylvania deepened her affection for her high school experience, as she realized that Hewitt’s distinguished academics and supportive community had given her the opportunity to truly know herself. Not only was she academically prepared for college, but she was also able to identify her interests and skills, which helped her choose her classes and major. While a co-ed education made her slightly uncomfortable at first, Chelsea realized that she had built her confidence throughout her years at Hewitt, and she soon found that grappling with this unfamiliarity only improved that confidence.
Chelsea spoke about how she preferred to learn through experiences rather than through textbooks, and highlighted an opportunity she had to spend a semester of college studying in Ghana. She chose this study abroad program because she wanted to learn firsthand about Black history, and by immersing herself in the local culture and customs, she also came away from the experience with a deeper understanding of a different way of life. She found “no blueprint” for adjusting to and living in Ghana, but learned to adapt and developed a better sense of herself as she embraced the culture and values of the people she lived with.
Chelsea also shared the intentional and thoughtful process she used to consider her career path. She thought she wanted to go into a career in the social sciences or history because of her love for those subjects at Hewitt and UPenn, where she majored in sociology with a concentration in law and society and minored in education with a concentration in policy, research, and practice. After participating in community service at Hewitt, she also knew she wanted to pursue a career that would satisfy her desire to help others. Outside of the formal discussions she had with professors, Chelsea also had conversations with her friends, mentees, and mentors, and she participated in conferences and other opportunities to pursue discussions about topics she genuinely enjoyed, like philosophy and social science. After graduation, Chelsea joined the supply company McMaster-Carr, where she uses her leadership and communication skills in a management position.
Chelsea’s ability to listen with solicitude, speak with enthusiastic feeling, and lead with benevolence have made her a respected and cherished member of the Hewitt community. It was apparent that the students and faculty on the Lunch and Learn call admired Chelsea for her authenticity, her courage, and her dedication to leadership, so it was no surprise that they listened eagerly as she advised students to take advantage of the resources available to them and explore their interests, without fear of failure. “Hewitt is the perfect place to fail and to let yourself step out of your comfort zone. Everyone is willing to extend a helping hand. Hewitt is not a place that will let you feel ashamed for making a mistake.”