Contributed by Rene Perez. Rene is an incoming senior at Austin High School who completed her second Pathfinder Leadership Summit this past June. This speech was originally delivered on Friday, June 16th at the Pathfinder Leadership Summit’s Luncheon.
There’s a certain welcomeness when walking into GEN, and still every time after. This is my second year at Pathfinder, but like the first time I was nervous and unsure of what I would be walking into. Quickly I was reminded simply being with an all women network is empowering. For the past year I’ve been with the Girls’s Empowerment Network, through Pathfinder, and on the Youth Advisory Board. I’ve had a wonderful time and continued to work with GEN because of their dedication of teaching girls how to connect: being able to start conversations, know boundaries and make friends, their desire to not create but rather provide support for each girl’s future, and a true kindness all across the board.
I know communication is a key part of life. I always get advice from my mom on how to email teachers, I yell across the field while playing sports, and write many essays in school. Still I didn’t have many friends. Although I didn’t like my reality I nearly had no idea on how to move forward. Last year at Pathfinder we were able to talk and learn about grief, about how the severity of change is less important than the understanding all changes in life effect people. This helped me become kinder to myself in the process of changing schools. That combined with seeing Caroline making jokes, smiling all the time, and supporting each girl every single day allowed for me to have a personal shift. I wanted to work harder on creating or keeping certain relationships in my life, and it’s the combination of workshops and the many prompts to speak out that made me understand vulnerability would be a necessary skill. Vulnerable, can be a scary word, but I don’t mean the dream where you stand up and realize you’re pants-less. Rather, I mean the active choice of doing the unfamiliar or scary task that allows for a greater success. For me that was being thankful for the things I enjoy, then further being able to express that with others. Having the capability to hold meaningful conversations. This change of mindset, of life, lead me to new blossoms of friendships and with mentors. Allowing growth from the uncomfortableness. For others it may look like volunteering to answer questions, or during lunch by not staying on our technologies but going right into discussion with new friends or with people they may not know yet.
I really like the word Pathfinder, partly because it reminds me of my favorite movie, finding Nemo, and also because it’s general enough to know each path for each girl will each be different; however, there is an end goal, there is a future. Secretly I didn’t want to attend college until just this past year, but no matter what I would because college is an expectation my mother has for me. So if anyone asked me about what I would do after high school, for the longest time I would say college really fast and change topics, since there was just no desire. During the week of Pathfinder there are so many opportunities every given day to talk to successful women, asking advice and listening to their own experiences. This week between our conversations there has been a consistent theme of change. Right now isn’t the only time we can make career or college choices and that it’s normal to change course and make a new path for oneself at any point in their lives. That is a powerful message I have been so grateful to hear and one a lot more girls should.
GEN staff are the kindest people I ever been able to meet and work with. Not every moment is perfect and still they are always doing their best. They are human of course, yet the love and the passion they have is out of this world. Even sharing my birthday with them the last two years has been a gift. After my time at Pathfinder in 2016 I knew I wanted to continue with this community. So I joined their Youth Advisory Board and when I’m working along side all these women it feels like strength. Their work is important and necessary. Personally, it has given me great inspiration for moving towards my own life. It’s made me become a better me, which I intend to put back into the world of girls.
There is still so much to tell from my own experiences and everyone receives this experience differently. So I am grateful to have been apart of GEN. I am grateful for a push to actively pursue my life and future. I am grateful for meeting so many authentic strong women for allowing me to hear their stories and listen to my own. Thank you.