U.S. Congressional hopeful and AIS alumna Lindy Li ’08 isn’t shy about being assertive. On Saturday, Oct. 31, Li shared with high school girls from around the region her personal story about what it takes to break into politics and run for public office as a presenter at the third annual Leading for Change (L4C) Conference at The Agnes Irwin School.
“I crashed a party at the Waldorf Astoria,” said Li, a Democratic candidate in the 2016 primary for Pennsylvania’s Seventh Congressional District, referring to the annual New York City gathering of the state’s elected officials and political power structure known as the Pennsylvania Society Dinner.
Her boldness led to a conversation with two invited guests, which whom Li shared her interest in running for elected office. “I told them I planned to run for Congress in 2020,” Li said during a workshop, adding that the two men advised her to run earlier, in 2016, so that she might benefit from the down-ticket effect of Hillary Clinton’s expected bid for president.
Little did she know that she was speaking with two major players in Pennsylvania Democratic politics; they would eventually endorse her “dream.” With party support, Li has raised more than $300,000 for her congressional race next year.
Li was among seven career workshop presenters at the Leading for Change Conference, organized by Agnes Irwin’s student-led Council for the Advancement of Girls, an Upper School organization that works closely with the school’s Center for the Advancement of Girls.
The daylong conference attracted more than 100 students from 20 public and private schools in the region and as far away as Maryland. The conference is designed “by girls, for girls,” to educate them about a variety of issues related to girls and women, including leadership and activism.
“This year’s theme is bridging the gap, or the belief that every girl can be a leader in any field and will not be limited by factors out of one’s control, such as age, gender, ethnicity or ability,” AIS senior and Council Head Abby Rubin said in welcoming the audience. “We hope you will leave this conference with new tools and ideas about how to be a leader in your own community.”
Keynote speaker Julie Zeilinger, an author and rising star among feminist bloggers, advised the girls not to think about leadership in “a stereotypical, one size fits all way,” and confided that as a teenager she often thought she could not consider herself a leader.
“We tend to believe that the qualities that define leadership are set in stone, that some are born with them and that others must learn to achieve them,” said Zeilinger, currently a staff writer for the online news source mic.com and author of A Little F’d Up: Why Feminism Is Not A Dirty Word and College 101: A Girl’s Guide to Freshman Year. She is founder and editor of The FBomb, a feminist blog, which she started in her sophomore year in high school.
“But … I have come to realize that truly effective leadership is far more nuanced and complex. It can and should be built from individuals’ strengths and drawn from their unique life experiences,” she said.
Zeilinger went on to chronicle her journey to becoming a blogger, of being spurred to action by learning about female infanticide in South Asia, of discovering the first and second waves of the feminist movement, and how she decided to write about the issues and challenges that girls and women still face today.
During the first breakout sessions, called Be Proud, Talk Loud, members of the Council for the Advancement of Girls led small-group discussions that grappled with questions about gender roles, discrimination in the military, sexual harassment and the portrayal of women in mass media.
“I don’t know what it says about the media that we don’t hear about (violence against women) more often,” said Brooke Hanraty, a student from Springside CHA, during one session.
The conference included career workshops on activism in the 21st century, entrepreneurship and personal branding, succeeding in science and technology, non-profit work and non-traditional career paths, the evolution of women in medicine, engineering and the utility industry, and setting values. In addition, attendees heard a panel of local women leaders discuss advocacy work.
Elana Bridges, a senior from The Lawrenceville School in New Jersey, said she came to the conference on the advice of her faculty advisor and that one highlight was meeting Li, the AIS graduate.
“She just has an amazing story. This is sort of why I came here, to see women in leadership and doing great things,” said Bridges, adding that participating in events like the conference gave her more confidence in her abilities. “There are so many opportunities to see the different fields women can be a part of and the roles they can have, roles not typically associated with females.”
Photo captions, from top to bottom: Lindy Li speaks to students; Council members share a laugh during a workshop; keynote speaker Julie Zeilinger; Council members speak during a workshop; the Council for the Advancement of Girls.