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HERlead Leadership Forum: A Fellow's Contrast of "Then" and "Now"

I have always been told that having a clear vision of my goal will enable me to achieve it. As a younger woman in high school, I knew that my goal was to change the world. Sixteen-year-old me thought this was a clearly defined goal, one that would enable me to be this change. As it turns out, twenty-year-old me has learned that it’s not this simple. If I could pat my younger self on the back for having this goal, I would, but it is really the women in my life who encouraged me to, whether they knew it or not, take the first step to truly achieving this. My mother, and two friends of hers, suggested that I apply to attend the HERlead Leadership Fellowship during June 2014.

I arrived to Washington, D.C. by train and encountered several “firsts”. This was the first time I had ever traveled alone, the first time I had ever been to the nation’s capital, the first time I was placed in an unfamiliar place. I was excited, I was nervous, I was uncertain, I was confident- all at once. Meeting young women from across the country, hearing about their experiences and interests, and absorbing passion like a contagion created an environment like none other that, up until this point in my life, had not existed. The forum was a truly transformative experience- one of its kind- that was created for women like me- women who want to change the world not in thought or statement, but in action.

Fast forwarding through high school and to my first years of college at the University of Pittsburgh, this network has continued to inspire and motivate me. Being a source of change in my community, as a Pittsburgh local, actually became a criterion from which my decision to commit to Pitt was evaluated and made. I so deeply desired to meet women on campus who were emblematic of my experience with other HERlead fellows and knew that in order to come across these type of people, I would need to invest my time into causes, organizations, and ideas that challenged the status quo, emphasized the importance of inclusion and diversity, and served others- all fueled by the goal to change the world.

During March of 2017, I had the opportunity to attend the inaugural HERlead Ambassador Forum. Much like the HERlead Leadership Forum, this forum brought young women from the network together, allowed us to learn from one another, and was a catalyst for the many causes and initiatives that are currently developing for this network. The only difference was I had valuable insight going into this forum: I understood the momentum of women coming together, the change that could be made, and the importance of growing with a network. I was not only reminded of my goal to change the world, but also reminded that I have the support, encouragement, and resources of women from across the country and from around the world to do just that- to change the world.

Becoming a part of this network has changed my life, has changed my world, in ways that I cannot adequately articulate. I met people over a three-day period in 2014 and again in 2017 that have inspired me for my lifetime, was challenged in ways that I did not know I needed to be, and have aspired to more in my early years of life than I ever thought would be possible. This network further bolsters the fact that it is not one person, but rather the collaboration of many, that make possible the dreams that each woman who is a part of this network has. Beyond dreaming, these women make their dreams realities through a variety of projects, initiatives, and causes. HERlead has and will continue to be one of the most meaningful experiences in my life and has been instrumental in shaping my future and your future, as beneficiaries of the women changing our world together.