I walked through Astor Place a few days ago and couldn’t help but notice the new and very imposing glass exterior building, 51 Astor place. The neo modern structure was designed by architect Fumihiko Maki and has been receiving mixed reviews from the locals. Although the prior building wasn’t particularly compelling architecturally speaking, if nothing else many people bemoan the loss of trees due to the larger footprint of the replacing structure. I was reminded of a wonderful experience I had in the old building when Girls Prep, a charter New York City school, used to live there. About a year and a half ago, I received an email from my then-employer to ask if I was interested in speaking at career week in the school just across the street from our office. How could I pass up the opportunity to be bold, show the power of presence and encourage girls to find their own presence?
The whirlwind began. Two days later, I was standing in front of 40 eleven-year-old girls in sixth grade. The girls were a buzzing and beautiful bunch of multi-racial gems, sitting – well, fidgeting is more apt – in their classroom seats. I was encouraged in advance to be prepared to engage the girls so with some quick work at the computer I put together my thoughts and planned my approach. I am so glad that I did have a strong strategy. Having been a professor and a presenter throughout my career, I can report that I have never worked so hard before in my life as I did while standing in front of that room.
With improv as my friend, I gave a passionate twenty-minute performance, thinking so quick on my feet that I felt that I was watching the event unfold without my conscious involvement. The girls were quick to get excited and although they required some group-clapping to be corralled, they were thinking and listening and speaking and showing their brilliance to me. The topic was career so I was lucky to speak about the connective thread of my life work, psychology in all its forms from professor to life coach to survey research executive. This girl’s power was energized by their girl power.
And the powerful connection also took place with a bystander. The principal took me to the room and introduced me to the class and I noticed a woman standing silently at the side of the room. In the fast pace of the events that unfolded, she and I did not immediately connect. After my session, she quietly approached me and then she unexpectedly exploded into an expressive flow about how she loves psychology. She was unstoppable in her outpouring of interest and enthusiasm. In that moment she showed her own brilliance and powerful girl presence. As it turns out, she was the teacher of the class, their Spanish instructor, who had carved out time from her regular schedule to have me speak. I was at once grateful and in awe of all these amazing girls of all ages, including myself.