What do all GPS girls have in common? They are critical thinkers. They have their own opinions. They are smart and savvy. They have a good work ethic. They decide what works for them.
These assessments were shared by Emma McCallie ’13 because she knows firsthand what attributes are instilled in GPS students. Since her graduation some six short years ago, she’s gone on to graduate from the University of Virginia (Charlottesville) after studying American government and education policy and completed an internship with former First Lady Michelle Obama.
McCallie’s passion for politics started her junior year at GPS, when she was selected to attend Volunteer Girls State
. The week would not only prove to be a defining moment in her life—a cataclysmic thing, she says—but it would set her on a course that included being one of 100 girls to comprise Girls Nation
As a Girls Nation participant, McCallie toured The White House and met President Barack Obama. Since attending Girls State as a rising high school senior, McCallie has returned each year to volunteer.
McCallie also credited GPS for shaping her life. “Here I learned to be self-reflecting, self-aware, and to self-actualize. I would not be the person I am today without GPS.”
After high school, McCallie went on to college and became a university tour guide and a campus ambassador. The summer of 2016, she worked for Reach Higher
, First Lady Michelle Obama’s initiative to inspire students to take charge of their future by completing education beyond high school. She also helped plan the First Lady’s Beating the Odds Summit
, an event that brought 130 college-bound high school graduates to the White House to celebrate their achievements and provide them with helpful resources to navigate their first year on campus.
This experience propelled McCallie into a two-year term with Teach For America, a nonprofit organization started in 1989 by Wendy Kopp
that mobilizes future leaders into low-income schools to teach for at least two years. She was selected as one of 830 applicants admitted through an early decision process her junior year of college. After training for six weeks, McCallie was assigned to teach 120 students seventh-grade history in metro Nashville—a job she described as “freaking hard work.”
“I would wear ‘Life Is Good’ T-shirts to school to try and convince myself that it could be,” she shared. “The work was endless and tiresome, and the students had every single obstacle stacked up against them.”
Her takeaways from that experience? “They were the best two years of my life,” she said. “I learned you should be kind—but like actually kind. Treat others not how you want to be treated, but like how THEY might want to be treated.” She completed her commitment in May.
Today she’s encouraging a mantra she calls DUH—Kindness. Those simple acts that can make a difference, such as saying good morning, smiling, talking in a positive tone, and holding the door for others. She told the girls to have fun in their work and to not take themselves too seriously. Most importantly, she said, “Belong to yourself. Beyond belonging to your school, you should learn who you are. The biggest thing you will do in your life you might not even know about it now.”
To discover their passions, she asked students, “What are the things you can’t stop thinking about and talking about? It doesn’t have to have a direct career opportunity.”
In closing, McCallie told the girls to fill their social media feeds with people and accounts that inspire them. To read interesting books. To listen to good podcasts. “Be interested in the interesting,” she said.
“It is the ultimate luxury to combine passion and contribution. It's also a very clear path to happiness.”—Sheryl Sandberg, COO, Facebook