I almost didn’t choose an all-girls’ school. I almost didn’t come to Baldwin.
In 2002 I was a precocious 4 years old — touring the local preschools, doing some interviews, trying to find a school that would prepare me for an illustrious future. After a few visits, I thought I had found the place. That school had offered me a SpongeBob Popsicle. They were courting me as if I were a football recruit, and I was falling for it.
I visited Baldwin thinking I would spend a fun day, maybe do some finger painting, and then go home to send my application to the other school, where hopefully more fancy desserts awaited. However, something happened that caused me to change my mind. I walked out and said to my mom: “That’s my school. That’s where I’m going next year.”
I don’t know what exactly happened that day, because I was 4 and my memories were strongly dessert-related. However, 14 years later I am so grateful I wasn’t swayed by my sweet tooth. Choosing the Baldwin School — choosing an all-girls’ education — was the best decision I’ve ever made. The school changed my life and the lives of my classmates, and I believe that places like Baldwin can even change the world.
One of the reasons I have thought of Baldwin as my second home is how safe I’ve felt. My classmates and I saw one another through every phase — as a result, I am no longer capable of feeling embarrassed at the Baldwin School. We made it through third grade, which for some reason was the year of track suits, oversized T-shirts, and the middle part in our hair that made me look vaguely like Jesus. Every picture of me from that year has been burned, for good reason.
We’ve made it through braces, bad haircuts, funky eye shadow. Our mothers were right — it wasn’t a good look. My classmates were also there for me when I passed out and flashed everyone during eighth-grade graduation rehearsal. Or when I slid down the ramp on set during my performance in the school musical. Most of my embarrassing moments seemed to involve falling.
Because of how much time we’ve spent together, how accepting everyone is, I learned to take those moments in stride. I knew all of my sisters would accept me and help me get back up after I fell down.
Baldwin’s support system has also taught me how to fail. Some of these moments were pivotal only in our preteen minds, while some were more impactful. I learned that you can’t take those disappointments so seriously.
I’ve failed a lot since then — all of my friends have. Growing up entails a lot of heartache. That’s unavoidable. Instead of feeling as if I had to hide my outrage and sadness, I was able to turn to my classmates. To vent, knowing I’d have someone who would listen. To feel confident that people around me wouldn’t let me be down on myself for long. Together, we supported one another and helped one another find our way.
This sense of community explains why Gloria Steinem powerfully argues that spaces like Baldwin are invaluable to women. Why groups “run by and for women” mean so much. “They are our psychic turf,” she said, “our place to discover who we are, or could become, as whole independent human beings. They help us to leave the tyranny of society’s expectations behind. A few hours a week or a month of making psychic territory can let us know that we are not alone.”
At Baldwin, I have always known that I am never alone. I never felt that I couldn’t do anything, because I looked around every day and saw strong, intelligent women doing whatever they wanted. Everyone on campus inspired me. At Baldwin, I was empowered. I knew my own abilities — I knew I could make a difference.
I hope that every girl is able to find her psychic turf. Both she and our society would be better off.
Madeleine Marr gave the graduation address this month at the Baldwin School, from which the above is excerpted. She will be studying public policy at Princeton in the fall. firstname.lastname@example.org