By Anna Kramer ‘16
On March 7, The Agnes Irwin School recognized International Women’s Day with a visit by alumna and State Department official Mimi Wang ’05. When speaking to the Upper School, Wang introduced students to the challenges and rewards of her life as a woman officer in the United States Foreign Service.
Recognition of International Women’s Day began in Eastern Europe in the early 20th century, in honor of the first all-female union, the International Ladies Garment Workers Union. In the western hemisphere, International Women’s Day was recognized as an official United Nations’ holiday by its General Assembly in 1966. Typically, celebrations are held on March 8 each year and are marked with a themed day at U.N. headquarters, speeches and gifts of purple flowers to women and girls around the world.
Wang, who also spoke to fourth graders and in a Middle School assembly, attended Yale University and graduated in 2009 with with a major in history and secondary major in International Studies. Shortly after her college graduation, Wang joined the U.S. State Department, serving overseas in postings in the Philippines and Afghanistan. In the two years since returning from Afghanistan, Wang has served as a watch officer in the State Department Operations Center (the U.S. government’s international crisis center) and currently serves in the communications office under State Department spokesman Jack Kirby.
She spoke with the fourth grade about her work as a Foreign Service Officer and fielded questions about the diverse places her work has taken her.
When asked by Agnes Irwin Upper School students about her experience as a woman in the Foreign Service, Wang emphasized a nuanced outlook. She noted that “the thing about sexism today… is that it’s a little bit inadvertent sometimes. Afghans treated me differently because I was a woman. Whether or not that was sexism, I couldn’t say. I was just unusual.”
While posted in Afghanistan, Wang was involved in the creation of an organization for Afghan women journalists. Wang discovered that the women educated in Afghan schools after the fall of the Taliban in 2001 “were really inspiring. They were like Irwin’s girls. They weren’t shy.” She formed a special bond with the young journalists, finding that education “makes a huge difference.”
“One of the things you learn to do at Irwin’s is you learn to learn,” Wang said, crediting the school for the writing and speaking skills she used to further her success as a working professional in the international and political sphere.
Sophie Gaddes, a senior and editor of the school newspaper, The Wick, found connections to her own interests in Wang’s story. “[Wang’s] dedication to legitimizing journalism for women as a career in Afghanistan really inspired me,” she said. “It showed a commitment to spreading freedom of thought and opinion around the globe.”
To senior Ellie Damstra, “learning about the story behind how [Wang] got involved with the State Department…sparked a potential future interest in a similar career.” Wang’s career path befitted a speech in honor of International Women’s Day, as it granted Agnes Irwin students a rare opportunity to connect with a woman experienced in geopolitical affairs.
Her visit was organized by Agnes Irwin’s Center for the Advancement of Girls, which distributed purple carnations to students, faculty and staff in recognition of the day.