A Contemporary Courageous Woman

Posted by Dr. Beth Reaves

The motto of the Washington School for Girls is “In the Spirit of Courageous Women.”
Inspired by the spirit of three women in history, WSG’s co-founders established an organization that would bear the legacies of that spirit. These Founding Spirits (Cornelia Connelly – Society of the Holy Child Jesus, Mary McLeod Bethune – National Council of Negro Women, and Claudine Thevent – Religious of Jesus and Mary) were intentionally chosen by WSG co-founder Sr. Mary Bourdon, RJM, and other courageous women as they collaborated in the late 1990s to form a Catholic school for girls in Ward 8. The essence of these women’s lives permeates the school’s spirit today – with a focus on perseverance, generosity and a commitment to education. As a school for girls led by women committed to their success, WSG is a vision of collective support for our students. Additionally, by regularly highlighting courage demonstrated by both women in history and women in our school and current lives, students are able to see varying perspectives.

It seems completely appropriate then to share with our students recent examples of courageous women, particularly young women of color that they see in the news. Gymnast Simone Biles stands out right now as an exemplary example as her recent olympic journey has been widely featured in the news. Recent events detailed how she arrived at the Tokyo Olympics a highly decorated and favored athlete, expected to win events and medals, securing success for herself and leading the USA gymnastics team. Simone decided to take a step back from the competition, focusing instead on her mental and physical health, thereby creating space in the gymnastics arena for others to earn medals and shine. And finally when she returned to competing at the tail end of the Olympics gymnastics segment, she participated in just one event. Biles took control of her own narrative and defined her boundaries. After performing, she received a standing ovation from athletes in the venue and a bronze medal. What she shared regarding this experience reflects her courage and spirit: “It means more than all of the golds because I’ve pushed through so much the last five years and the last week while I’ve even been here” further noting how proud she was of herself for the accomplishment.

And so, with this Olympic journey, Simone Biles creates a current version of a courageous woman for our young girls to see and understand. She put herself and her mental and physical health first. “At the end of the day, we’re human, too, so we have to protect our mind and our body rather than just go out there and do what the world wants us to do,” says Biles. She demonstrated a commitment to her own wellness and self care before agreeing to work to meet others’ expectations. She showed that by continuing to work towards personal goals, even shifted goals, you can achieve success that makes you proud – and acknowledge all that you know you’ve overcome.

At WSG we shifted back to in-person learning this week with our students and are thrilled to be present with them again. While the school environment has changed with needed safety protocols (masks, social distancing, etc). there is nothing like the positive energy of students in a school building to feel inspired in your work. As the school year unfolds and we continue to reinforce our school climate as one that positively affirms young girls of color, we can hold up Simone Biles as a current role model demonstrating the boundary setting needed for self-preservation and an intentional focus on wellbeing as a measure of success. Simone Biles also displayed the perfect combination of personal yet outward expression of joy, perseverance and success, especially as a gift to oneself – a great example for our students.