#LEADLIKEAGIRL: A Conference for Risk-Takers and Changemakers
Lindsey Skerker

Three eleventh grade students from Purnell School were selected to take part in the prestigious opportunity of presenting and speaking at the #LEADLIKEAGIRL Conference in Princeton, New Jersey.

The two-day annual event was held at Stuart Country Day School of the Sacred Heart and was geared towards girls in grades K-12, parents, and educators. The conference showcased the work of female students from schools not only in New Jersey but from states as far as North Carolina. The conference highlighted academic endeavors in STEM, entrepreneurism, and leadership, and aimed to inspire confidence in young women to forge connections between students and mentors in various career fields.

On Friday afternoon, María Lujan '20 led a session based on her work in Purnell's Next Generation Leaders class. Lujan shared, "I was extremely grateful for the support from the Purnell community for giving me the opportunity to speak at such a remarkable and prestigious event. Being a guest speaker at #LEADLIKEAGIRL was a once in a lifetime opportunity. I got to learn while teaching and empower others to step out of their comfort zone and to leave a positive footprint in their communities."

On Saturday morning, Ariel Graziano '20 and Kat Tansill '20 were panelists who spoke about Project Kindness, a student initiative that sprang from our school theme this year. Kat said, "#LEADLIKEAGIRL was a great experience! I had the opportunity to step out of my comfort zone and talk about my leadership experience and the kindness group at our school." All three of the students expressed an interest in attending the conference again next spring. They hope that next year there will be an even larger cohort of students and educators from Purnell who will be able to attend the event.

Conference-goers had the opportunity to attend a variety of sessions. Attendees got to hear from high school students, educators, and women in the workforce who are experts in their fields. The Keynote Speaker was Reshma Saujani, founder and CEO of Girls Who Code. Reshma founded the national non-profit organization to close the gender gap in technology and to change the image of a stereotypical programmer. She emphasized the importance of having women representation in STEM fields for young girls to look up to as mentors. Furthermore, she challenged content creators to cast women in more diverse roles in media, including more female characters in STEM roles in movies and television. She pointed to the disparity in children's books and toys about STEM and coding. Reshma recently released the book Brave, Not Perfect, based on her TED talk, "Teach girls bravery, not perfection" which has received over four million views online. Her message has sparked a national conversation on the way boys versus girls are raised and educated.

The three students from Purnell greatly appreciated this exciting opportunity to gather in such an electric atmosphere with like-minded students, educators and experts. Ariel Graziano '20 summed up the experience well: "The #LEADLIKEAGIRL conference was an amazing opportunity to share ideas with student leaders creating change in their school, like what we have been doing at Purnell. I had the honor to sit on a panel with someone I admire for her leadership and kindness - my good friend Kat Tansil. On the panel, we talked about leadership opportunities for students in high school and also talked about our amazing kindness group which has shaped our school in so many positive ways. I am beyond grateful to be part of something bigger than myself and to have had this unique chance to make an impact on others as well. We can all learn and grow from each other if we decide to sit down and have conversations that will shape the environment we live in. I want to thank the Purnell community for also believing in a girl whose life was going nowhere but now has a purpose. I hope to inspire other girls to take that leap of faith because as Norman Vincent Peale said, 'Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you'll land among the stars.'"