Discovering Your Purpose Conference
Parents, students, faculty members, and alumnae explored the powerful role that purpose plays in our personal, intellectual, and professional lives on Saturday, October 12 at the Discovering Your Purpose Conference, presented by Agnes Irwin’s Center for the Advancement of Girls. The conference also served as a featured event for The Agnes Irwin’s School’s Sesquicentennial, celebrating 150 years of empowering girls to learn, lead, and live a legacy.
Empowering girls and women to identify and embrace their purpose is intrinsic to the mission of Agnes Irwin — and with good reason. Research indicates that for adolescents, having a sense of purpose is vital to greater resiliency and positive psychological and emotional well-being, a deeper sense of hope and life satisfaction, and increased goal-oriented thinking and academic performance.
The biggest problem growing up today is not actually stress; it's meaninglessness.
Bill Damon, Director of the Stanford Center for Adolescence
The conference began with opening remarks from Head of School Dr. Wendy Hill, who welcomed attendees and introduced Camille Seals, Assistant Head of School for Academic & Inclusive Excellence. Seals emphasized the importance of knowing oneself in order to know how best to impact the world, and that living such a legacy requires “walking in your own truth, and giving others permission to do the same. It means giving something of consequence to a world that so desperately needs your contribution.” Alison Monzo, Director of Programs for the Center for the Advancement of Girls, led participants in short discussions that identified their most important values, remarking that “in order to live a purposeful life, one must have a clear sense of personal values.” She added that the school’s Core Values of Excellence, Character, Community, and Respect “sit at the heart of our institution and are reflected in how we approach educating girls. They are what makes us who we are, and are what we believe informs and drives our purpose every single day.”
Conference keynote speaker Patrice Banks, founder and CEO of Girls Auto Clinic, has shattered stereotypes in the male-dominated automotive industry through her female-friendly automotive center that offers buying and repair resources, products, and services for women. Her #sheCANic movement continues to inspire women across the country to empower themselves through awareness, education, and support. In her address, the former DuPont engineer emphasized the importance of dreaming big, overcoming fears of the unknown, and embracing confidence in order to bring those dreams to fruition.
"My dreams are the key to my happiness and finding my purpose," Banks said. "One of the most important things about dreaming big is you’re not putting any limits on your dreams, and you’re not putting any judgements on them."
For women in particular, it is vital to develop the strength to be bold when scared, not suffer and be comfortable — and to take action now while surrounding oneself with others who believe in those goals. “Sometimes you gotta create what you want to be a part of,” she added. “The fastest way to change yourself is to hang out with people who are already the way you want to be.” Banks ended the conference with a charge to find success through practicing kindness, vulnerability, empathy, and authenticity. “It’s important to know who you are, [with] that self-awareness, and show up as that person,” she said. “That authenticity is what brings the magic, because so few people do it.”
Students in grades 7-12 heard from successful women about discovering a sense of purpose, direction, and calling in life. From entrepreneurship to developing purpose through verbal and non-verbal expression, a wide variety of presenters offered thought-provoking discussions and activities to guide students in reflection, including:
- Phaidra Knight, attorney and World Rugby Hall of Fame inductee, who emphasized the important role that activism can play in finding one’s calling, as illustrated by the life and work of tennis legend Billie Jean King and her fight for equality in athletics. ”It’s not about organizing a thing — it’s living activism,” Knight remarked. “Because you’re living your true essence, in a sense. You feel fulfilled, and you can’t even imagine the amount of people who are watching you and are impacted by that."
- AIS alumna Suzie Welsh ’07, nurse-turned-entrepreneur and founder of women’s health company Binto, who shared her entrepreneurial story and encouraged students to think about innovation and “intrapreneurship,” or sparking innovation within a chosen career or industry.
- Angelina Keeley, founder and executive director of nonprofit Ready to Run, who led students with political leadership aspirations in discussions about the history of women in U.S. politics and the importance of female representation in government. “Peers speaking to peers is the most powerful thing you can do,” she noted. “If everyone starts to open up about the things you’re talking about, that can definitely make change.”
- Alumna Jean Mason ’07, associate designer at Stitch Fix and designer of AIS’s 150th Celebration signature print and textile collection, who facilitated a workshop that explored artistic avenues outside of the traditional academic path and shared about her journey as a trained textile artist.
Parents and educators engaged in small group discussions about how best to empower girls to discover a sense of purpose — and the importance of modeling it as parents and mentors. Their sessions included:
- Dr. Matthew Joseph, assistant professor in Duquesne University’s Department of Counseling, Psychology, and Special education, provided guidance on how to engage productively with students toward pursuing life purposes, drawing on research as well as his own experience. He stressed the importance of asking “why” questions, noting that studies suggest that asking young people to spend 20 minutes writing about their values will make them more reflective on their values and actually help with their achievement. “Just ask them,” he encouraged. “Ask them to reflect [about core values you're trying to impart] and help them understand why it matters.”
- Dr. Terese Lund, assistant professor of psychology at Wingate University, and Dr. Angela Mousseau, professor of education at Rivier University, led a workshop that examined the formation of purpose through the lens of developmental research, focusing on the essential questions parents and youth should be asking. “As parents in their life, you want to facilitate that conversation of going from big picture to small picture, and then small picture to big,” they advised.