Tough Girls

I am writing this month’s blog from our nation’s capital, just a few days after Election Day, and the city is incredibly quiet and surprisingly cold for early November. The Hamlin alumnae event that I hosted on Wednesday evening at Pearl Dive Oyster Place was a terrific success, and it was such a delight to greet familiar faces as well as meet several alumnae for the first time. Whether I am in the Bay Area or visiting another city, I am always struck by the warmth, poise, and intellectual prowess of Hamlin alumnae; the passions and professional expertise of these Maryland and Washington D.C.-based women ran the gamut from forensic science to law to energy sources to consulting to the Peace Corps. Their poignant reflections about their Hamlin days, their commitment to their families and friends, and their remarkable success in college and in their chosen careers spoke volumes to me about their ethical values and strengths as women. I felt blessed to be in their company and was eager to share with them my insights and perspectives about Hamlin today. My mother, using her classic Brooklyn vernacular, would have referred to these alumnae as “tough girls.” (Yes, there is a positive definition of the word tough in the “urban dictionary,” and it means excellent, first-rate, fabulous, and hip!)

My role as Head of School is a dynamic one, as I must be fully acquainted with the school’s past, completely focused on the school as it is now, and constantly thinking about improvements and innovations to ensure the school’s staying power. There is no doubt in my mind that locating and reconnecting the thousands of former students is an important endeavor for Hamlin; linking ourselves to the past will enliven the present and secure our future. The current strategic plan, “Be Extraordinary,” focuses intently on alumnae engagement as a necessary component of Hamlin’s strength as an independent school. The concept of being “a Hamlin girl for life” is a powerful one; we cannot expect present-day parents to shoulder the full responsibility for the school’s current needs for volunteerism, strategic thinking, and financial resources. Thus, I am thrilled that alumnae will staff the High Tea at Winterfest this year and will participate in Hamlin Harvest in January and Career Day for Grade 8 girls in the spring; moreover, alumnae are offering their time, talent, and treasure as members of the Alumnae Board and Board of Trustees. Greater alumnae involvement in the school, festive local and regional events, and more effective, differentiated communication strategies will expand and solidify the alumnae network and will also benefit Hamlin in significant ways, not the least of which is stronger participation in the Annual Fund and future capital campaigns. I want to take this opportunity to thank Advancement Associate Brittany Shaff for the excellent work she has done over the past several months to support and promote alumnae programs, and I would like to welcome our new Associate Director of Advancement Lisa Handley who will now assume responsibility for alumnae programs and relations. Lisa’s previous work experience and excellent track record at Orrick and SFMOMA will inform and inspire her work at Hamlin.

My time with Hamlin alumnae in Washington D.C. made me think more deeply about a book that my husband and I are reading at the moment, entitled How Children Succeed. I am convinced now more than ever that Hamlin must be a place where girls “get smart,” and also where they “get tough.” (In this definition of the word tough, I mean being strong, resilient, persistent, and capable of enduring difficult circumstances.) The successful women I saw in front of me in Washington D.C. were clearly knowledgeable, and many had earned advanced degrees from excellent colleges and universities across America. Their intellect was obvious, and they recalled how much they had learned at Hamlin. (Many had retained a very strong command of French, and others could still sing the “jingles” which their Hamlin science teacher had taught them to remember chemical reactions!) However, my sense was that their success in life was due in large part to several non-cognitive qualities such as focus, patience, optimism, flexibility, courage, and determination. Intellectual horsepower alone could not have accounted for the high level of alumnae success; these women had character and grit. They had learned how to cope with not getting what they wanted, managing stress, moving from one city to another, and dealing with loss, deadlines, and unexpected changes. They were definitely “tough girls” in this second sense of the word.
Thus, the questions on my mind this month are, “How can parents and educators get comfortable allowing our children to struggle and fail so that they develop the resilience and adaptability that they need to succeed? How can the Hamlin program be even more intentional about teaching and measuring the cognitive skills as well as non-cognitive skills?” Surely our children need both in order to thrive and lead.
If you have a moment this month, pick up or download a copy of How Children Succeed. The author is Paul Tough. Pun intended.
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Wanda M. Holland Greene

Wanda M. Holland Greene is currently in her ninth year as Head of School. She is a proud New Yorker and a graduate of Columbia College, receiving her B.A. in English and Psychology. She earned her M.A. in the Department of Curriculum and Teaching from Teachers College, Columbia University. Wanda complements her work as an educator by serving independent schools and as trustee for Columbia University. She is a vocal performer (jazz, gospel, and soul), an avid reader, poet, and writer.

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The Hamlin School educates girls to meet the challenges of their time and inspires them to become extraordinary thinkers and innovators, courageous leaders, and  women of integrity.

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