STUDENTS | July 23, 2021
The district’s annual HER Empowerment Summit brings female students from all over Chicago together to learn and grow from women who have become successful across a variety of different industries. Students gain insight on topics such as entrepreneurship, self-love, and mental health and wellness through a captivating program developed and hosted by the CPS Department of Academic Competitions.
This year’s summit included speakers such as Theresa Caldwell Jenkins, who started her own non-profit organization to assist victims of human trafficking; Dr. Myosha Julian, a primary care mental health integration psychologist; and LaQuenta Jacobs, the chief diversity officer at a major supply chain company.
One of the most exciting parts of the summit was hearing from Valerie Jarrett, current president of the Obama Foundation and former senior advisor to Barack Obama, who participated in a fireside chat with Leah O., a recent graduate of Whitney Young High School who will be attending Butler University in the fall to pursue journalism and English.
Ms. Jarrett described her 30-year friendship with Barack and Michelle Obama and encouraged attendees to be intentional and curious when deciding what they want to pursue as a career. She also emphasized the importance of being who you are and telling your story when looking for career opportunities, rather than just trying to sell yourself.
“Build friendships today. You never know how those friendships will evolve with time and where the path is that those friendships might carry you,” said Ms. Jarrett. “Mine carried me from this young couple that was just engaged to the White House.”
Leah described the opportunity as a “complete honor” that she was “beyond thrilled” to participate in. Read more about the interview and the entire HER Summit from her perspective below.
How would you describe your interview with Valerie Jarrett?
It was such a beautiful opportunity, and I loved it. I have looked up to her, and knowing about the path that she created has been such an aspiration for me.
How did you prepare for the interview?
I started with her biography to make sure that I had the basics of her backstory correct. From there, I thought about the topics that were connected to the summit such as mindfulness journaling and advice that could be offered to teen girls. I tried to model some of the questions around what we needed to hear as teen girls and the insights that she could give to us.
Did Ms. Jarrett share anything that surprised you?
I asked her about what had moved her to pursue law for her career, and she said that she didn’t really have a plan for it. She had been advised by another friend who encouraged her to take that opportunity to think critically and strategically, and she said she would try it. Obviously, it worked out very well for her.
Other than your interview, what is one thing you will take away from the summit?
I loved Keisha Green, one of the speakers, because she had a really great message about standing up for yourself without standing in your own way. I really appreciated that because that took on a new meaning for me about knowing your worth and helping others to realize that as well, but not creating problems for yourself or shrinking yourself.
Thinking about what you learned at the summit, what advice would you give to incoming high school freshmen?
It sounds cliché, but I would advise them to stay on their own path. You can do the things you have ambitions for even if it’s more common or popular at your school to do something else. That’s going to pay off later instead of just following what others are doing.
Where do you see yourself in 15 to 20 years?
I would definitely like to stay the course with writing. I see myself maybe working with an arts organization to pursue my creative passions while also exercising my writing talents as well.
Check out more highlights from the HER Empowerment Summit below! And make sure to follow the CPS Department of Academic Competitions on Instagram for more information about upcoming programs.