Featured Creative: Sara Duval, Co-Founder of Silver Space and advocate for the arts

This is an appreciation post for an exceptionally talented creative, entrepreneur, and social media extraordinaire. On International Women's Day (IWD) one week ago, many women shared the quote: "Here's to strong women. May we know them. May we be them. May we raise them." Today, I'd like to introduce you to one more. Here's to Sara Duval. 

 Sara Duval, 24, and Marina May, 24, Co-Founders of Silver Space.  Photo by Kyle Simmons

Sara Duval, 24, and Marina May, 24, Co-Founders of Silver Space.

Photo by Kyle Simmons

When it comes to my inspirations, I love to look for passionate people. It isn't hard when you don't have to look too far. Sara Duval and I met in 2014 while studying together at Emory University. She was a year above me, and played a pivotal role in helping me stay true to my passions amidst a lack-luster creative environment. She is intellectually engaging, fiercely stylish, and has an unparalleled eye for design. Not only did Sara graduate Summa Cum Laude with a degree in Interdisciplinary Studies, but she is the co-founder (with her partner Marina May) of an up-and-coming platform for creatives in the mid-west. Based in St. Louis, Silver Space provides local artists with networking/development opportunities and a channel through which to promote their work. In addition to managing Silver Space, Sara works as a content marketing specialist (You'll understand why when you see her flawless instagram). 

The mission statement of Silver Space exemplifies just how meaningful the work these two amazing women produce is. Take a look for yourself: "Our mission is to provide a platform for artists of all backgrounds and disciplines from the Midwest to show and connect with one another. We aim to develop an inclusive, generative community backed by resources like portfolio critiques, local meet ups, and on site representation. Silver Space will become a locus for networking and opportunities, connecting artists and creatives." (Silverspacestl.com)

Connecting artists with opportunities and resources is imperative to the growth and development of individuals and their creative communities. After reading Silver Space's mission statement, I can't help but think back to the quote "empowered women empower women." This melodic chant received an ovation on IWD, and for good reason. On IWD, Sara shed some light on some ongoing biases in the arts industry that make empowering female artists a necessity. Here is an excerpt from her post:

Studies show that women make up 60-75% of students studying art at a university level, however only 30% of gallery exhibitions are shows by women. There is no answer that explains why this occurs, except for blatant sexism in our society.
A part of Marina May's and my mission through creating Silver Space was to give the recognition to female artists in the St. Louis area by featuring their work on our site and Instagram. We are working to continually enrich ourselves and our community with these women's perspectives.

I know there is authenticity behind these words because I have been on the receiving end of Sara's encouragement. When I was contemplating my future career opportunities in 2015, I had what I like to call a "quarter-life-crisis." I was so torn on what to do with my future, that I changed my college major three times in a week and a half. Sara sat down with me at a coffee shop outside of Ponce City Market in Atlanta, and talked with me for over an hour about my career goals and passion for art. She mentored me through the process of becoming an IDS major myself. It was enlightening for me to find a person who's passion for people and visual design paralleled mine. Sara's commitment to my success inspired me to challenge myself and pursue a career in art (despite various other people's advice).

I had the opportunity to interview Sara on her personal inspirations, creative process, and what it was like to create the Silver Space brand. I hope that you enjoy Sara's story as much as I do, and that you, too, find some inspiration in her words. Read the interview below:

What inspires you?

I get inspired when speaking with other people who are creative and think big. I love meeting different people around St. Louis and just throwing out a bunch of big ideas. Through the conversation, we’ve always come up with tons of new things to make, do, and put our efforts toward.

Sometimes we come up with ideas for events we should organize, an art book we should make, a new website we should launch. When I’m speaking with other people who think outside the box, it is so exciting to think of all the things we can create together.

It’s truly inspiring and motivating to speak with other people who think they can change their community (or world!) in a positive way.

What is your story?

I think in life I’ve been incredibly lucky. I grew up with parents who would do anything for me and always made decisions based on what was best for me. I learned how to be a hard worker from my mom and how to take risks and be a dreamer and creative from my dad. I think it’s a good combination. If you have too much of one and not enough of the other, it doesn’t work because you either are lazy and have dreams that go nowhere, or you work too hard and don’t pursue what you’re passionate about.

When I was a toddler my mom called me “strong willed” because I always did what I wanted, and I think that’s something that has really shaped my story.

How did you begin your career as a creative?

I would say my career as a creative really began in college when I was working on my senior honors thesis. It was then that I started to really form ideas about what it meant to me to be a creative person and how important it is to me to work in a creative field, where I can make things and be passionate about what I’m doing every day.

My thesis had a ton to do with why people don’t pursue creative careers and why they should. AKA intrinsic reward is more motivating than extrinsic reward, so pursue a career you like and you’ll probably do better at it in the long run. So, I kind of see my creative life I live as me proving my own thesis right. I made the decision I wanted to pursue a creative life then and there and I don’t think I could ever turn back now.

How did the idea for Silver Space come to be?

I had a crazy idea, then I ran it by my friend (and now business partner) and she thought it was an awesome idea, and so it began. Originally, we wanted to create a co-working space for artists. The idea was that you wouldn’t need to rent a studio space, you would just need to pay your “membership fee” and contribute to Silver Space in some way (giving a talk, teaching a master class, etc.) to be a member and use the space. We wanted to host shows, events, and maybe even have a coffee shop! The real goal was to create a community for creatives and bring more awareness to the art scene in St. Louis. We quickly realized that maintaining and paying for a space was going to be a huge undertaking, so we decided to build the community without the space.

From there, we’ve established relationships with so many different artists and local creative businesses around St. Louis and Silver Space has become a platform for promoting all these different people and creative ventures.

What was your greatest challenge with starting Silver Space, and how did you overcome it?

Intimidation. When we were starting out, we were so scared to reach out to different artists, because we were afraid they wouldn’t want to speak with us, or that we weren’t qualified to speak with them. But, we just had to go through with it or fail, and at first it was scary and uncomfortable and there were some mini panic attacks along the way, but we’ve overcome the fear, built up our confidence, and things are rolling along now.

Why art?

Art has a way of telling a complicated story in a way that is unlike anything else in the world. All the artists we speak with are able to make a statement through their work without using any actual language, and that to me is just such a powerful form of expression to be able to master.

Do you have a favorite quote? If so, what is it and why?

Do one thing every day that scares you. When I was little, my mom had a mug with this quote on it, and it just really stuck with me. Eleanor Roosevelt said this, and as a history nerd and feminist she’s one of my favorite people ever. I think that if I’m not doing anything that scares me each day, I’m probably not doing anything worthwhile. I really am a believer in getting outside my comfort zone, whether it is a career move where I present an idea that’s a little out there, or I request a meeting with someone who’s much more important than me, or I book a trip abroad on a whim with no idea what I’ll even do there, there’s some joy in doing things that are scary and just seeing how it goes. I’ve found that its life and everything kind of has to work out in one way or another.

I recently read something that said you shouldn’t make decisions out of fear of what could happen, you should make decisions and think, what’s the worst that could happen? And usually, you realize you can recover from anything. What you can’t recover from is not taking risks and missing out on important opportunities, and I think that is what would be the absolute worst thing for me.

How does running a small business impact your life?

It makes me a little stressed at times, but mostly it just adds more excitement! It gives me the ability to connect and work with so many different people around the city and I’ve met some awesome friends through the process!

How do you find the artists you feature?

We find them in all different ways. Sometimes, we’ll go to a group show and see a new artist and say, we have to talk to that person. Sometimes, artists will tell us about a show or say they like what we’re doing and that they want to talk to us. Sometimes, we’ll interview an artist and they’ll tell us that we have to talk to one of their friends. They come from all over.

What is your process for content creation?

We have things pretty much down to a science at this point. We’ll set up an interview with an artist and usually that interview happens at their studio. My business partner, Marina, and I will go to the studio with some prepared questions, but we usually just end up having a conversation, usually about art, but since art is so intersectional, it always goes in at least a couple of different directions.

While we’re there I pretty much just listen while Marina does the interview, but I usually ask a couple of questions that come up during the interview. My role is to take photos of the studio and the artist, which is fun.

Then after the interview, Marina takes all of the recorded interview content and does a write-up of what we talked about. I edit the photos I took and use them on our site and Instagram. Then we promote the content on the site through the Instagram.

What inspired your brand?

The Silver Space branding is my personal “baby,” if you will. My role in Silver Space mostly involves keeping consistent branding visually, maintaining the Insta, and keeping everything smooth on the website. I wanted the brand to look professional and clean, kind of like a cross between what you’d expect to see in a gallery and a museum, but a little more chic. I wanted clean and elegant, and I’d like to think that’s what we’ve achieved.

What do you think is the most significant barrier to female leadership?

Our society has taught us to think that other women are our competitors. I feel this is a huge barrier to collaboration with other female business owners and leaders in the community. I do feel, however, that through our work, we’re finding more and more like-minded female entrepreneurs who have the same idea about female leadership that we do: basically, that rising tides lift all ships and it is better to be collaborators and teammates than competitors.

What brings you fulfillment? and/or Who or what brings you joy? Why?

Sooooooo many things. I think that I’m obsessed with finding beauty in life and the world. I’ve recently realized that everything I do is about finding something beautiful. I’ll always say that when I pick a spot to go out to eat, I’m much more concerned with the atmosphere than how good the food is. Or, when planning a place to travel, I look at the beautiful things I can see there, then that motivates me to go there. I think it just comes back to wanting to find beauty in things around me.

What do you love to do? What do you feel when you are doing it?

I love connecting people to other people and new opportunities. I really enjoy connecting two people who I feel have similar interests and would have many things in common. I also really enjoy connecting people to opportunities I think would be beneficial for them. If I see a job or something, I oftentimes think of a friend who would be interested and refer them to the opportunity. It just makes me feel good to try and help people find something that will make them happy.

 

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If you love Sara's story as much as I do, check out the following links to get connected:

Silver Space Website: www.silverspacestl.com,

Silver Space Instagram @silverspace_stl

Personal Instagram @sara_duval

Personal Portfolio Site https://saraduval.myportfolio.com/

 

Painting the Picture: Accepted Student Welcome Video for Emory Class of 2021

The marketing team from the office of Undergraduate Admissions and I collaborated to create this video Painting the Picture to welcome the class of 2021 to Emory University. 

With the help of artist Becca Bowles, this 120 in wide three-piece mural was produced in only 3 days. This mural symbolizes the vibrant community that Emory provides for their students, and serves as a testament to the passion each student embodies. 

Following the production of the video, the works were exhibited in the Admissions Building at Emory during the incoming student's welcome orientations. 

The paintings now reside Dean Ajay Nair's office in the Center for Undergraduate Student Life.

 The three-panel work was exhibited in the Emory Admissions building during campus tours and the newly accepted student receptions before taking its permanent residence in the office of Undergraduate Student Life with Dean Ajay Nair.

The three-panel work was exhibited in the Emory Admissions building during campus tours and the newly accepted student receptions before taking its permanent residence in the office of Undergraduate Student Life with Dean Ajay Nair.

Rejection Hotline: Five Ways to Overcome Feeling Like You Aren't Good Enough

This one is for the people still on their way. 

On Women, Impostor Syndrome & Self-Doubt

The first time I heard the term "Impostor Syndrome," I was sitting in The "Girl's Lounge" in the Microsoft Tech Center at the 2017 Ad Week Conference. It was my first time in New York City alone. I had expected something out of Nickelodeon's "Girls Room," but (to my dismay) Amanda Bynes was not the host. Instead I found a self-care haven. There was free hair and make-up styling, some cheeky refreshments that cost men one dollar and women only seventy-nine cents, but most importantly, there was a community of support. The interview I had stumbled in on was a dialogue on the Impostor Syndrome phenomenon sponsored by the Female Quotient. On stage were six or seven women dressed to the nines. These women were CEO's and entrepreneurs and they commanded the room. 

The women of the Girls Lounge defined Imposter Syndrome as a sort of psychological infection that festers in moments of success, filling you with self-doubt and the belief that you do not deserve the successes you have achieved. Though Imposter Syndrome impacts people of all walks of life, there is evidence that feelings of self-doubt are more pervasive for women and minority communities due to internalized systemic oppression (See resources below for more information). 

My favorite tip for dealing with moments of self-doubt from the interview went something like this: When your negative conscience tries to bring you down, name her and banish her. 

My Interpretation:

Patricia (mine is named Patricia): *whispers* You're not good enough
Me: I *clap* don't *clap* have *clap* time *clap* for *clap* your *clap* shit *clap* Patricia

This is such an excellent way for you to identify the catalyst of your self doubt, cast it away from your current situation, and evaluate the opportunity in front of you with a clear head. The conclusive sentiment: everyone experiences sensations of self-doubt, it's what you do to move past them that makes or breaks an opportunity. After the conference, I was reading an article on The Cut about 25 Famous Women on Imposter Syndrome and Self-Doubt. Here is how Emma Watson described her experience with Impostor Syndrome:

“It’s almost like the better I do, the more my feeling of inadequacy actually increases, because I’m just going, Any moment, someone’s going to find out I’m a total fraud, and that I don’t deserve any of what I’ve achieved. I can’t possibly live up to what everyone thinks I am and what everyone’s expectations of me are. It’s weird — sometimes [success] can be incredibly validating, but sometimes it can be incredibly unnerving and throw your balance off a bit, because you’re trying to reconcile how you feel about yourself with how the rest of the world perceives you.” —Rookie, May 2013

It is refreshing to see celebrities taking ownership of their own humanity. However, all of the women I've mentioned have something in common: they are all already stereo-typically successful. While it is an amazing service to women to hear that these glamazon celebrities and deities of business success are, in fact, human, what about the women just starting out? What about the women who didn't go to an Ivy League school or star in a multi-million dollar franchise before they hit puberty? AKA, what about me? To me, it feels like there is definitely a mountain high enough and a valley low enough to keep me from reaching their level of prestige. I am interested in the paralyzing fear that what I've done isn't good enough to get me where I want to go--the fear that I don't deserve it. The fear that I'm not good enough. 

According to Valerie Young, author of The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women, there are various types of impostor syndrome that a person can experience. For a brief explanation of each, read this article. Here's quick list:

  1. The Perfectionist
  2. The Superwoman/man
  3. The Natural Genius
  4. The Rugged Individualist
  5. The Expert

If I were to self-diagnose, I would place myself as "The Natural Genius." I am by no means a genius, but the personality traits described align with my personal experiences. I was always told that I was an "old soul" or the "smart one." While I am not complaining about the compliments, this positive reinforcement in combination with my own stubbornness led me to believe that I could do anything I wanted, and that I didn't need to try for it. I was complacent with only doing the things that came easy to me, but terrified to try new things for fear of failure. Little did I know that I would get rejected from over half the colleges I applied to, fail tests, not receive scholarships, and have countless other "failures." Rejection stole my confidence and dropped me on my face. People in college used to ask me all the time how I did all the things that I did. With a sarcastic laugh I'd say "..... I don't sleep." But the truth is, I am plagued with feelings of regret. I wish that I had done the things that scared me, put in (more) extra hours, accomplished something extraordinary. Perhaps in another person's eyes, I am a success story. In mine, I struggle on a daily basis with insecurities regarding my merit as a student, a friend, an artist, and a professional. When I am feeling down on myself, there are a few things that I do to recharge my confidence. If you're reading this, they might help you too. 

 

5 Ways to Overcome Feeling Like You Aren't Good Enough

1. Use positive language when you talk about yourself. 

Positivity is infectious. When you tell a story, especially about one of your accomplishments, try not to undercut yourself by focusing on negative elements. Every time you share a story, your brain re-writes your memory of that story. Use positive language to cultivate memories of self-love and encouragement. This is not to say that you should glaze over painful events in your life. Not everything is cherries and rose buds. This is about practicing optimism and empowering yourself. 

When someone gives you a (genuine) compliment, accept it. Qualifying their compliment with self-depreciation makes it seem as though you are in some way unworthy of the praise. You deserve to be recognized.

Positive communication is not limited to vocabulary. Using positive body language such as sitting or standing up straight, making eye contact, and smiling can completely change how you feel about yourself in a situation. I am not telling you that you are prettier when you smile. I am telling you that you have agency over your feelings, and you can leverage that agency to help yourself overcome bouts of insecurity. Confidence does not take up space, confidence opens it. 

Of course, when bad things happen, it is okay to feel bad about them. You are allowed to be sad, angry, and frustrated. There are some things in life that are just unfortunate. Take the time you need to reflect on and care for painful situations, but do not dwell in sadness to the point where you hinder your own progress. 

2. Reflect on the things you are proud of or grateful for daily. 

Having daily rituals can improve your productivity and positivity. One of my favorites is to say out loud 3 things I am proud of or grateful for every day. By reminding myself of the things I have accomplished, or good things that have happened to me, I can counterbalance feelings of negativity and doubt. Try starting out the day like this. Celebrate your accomplishments, appreciate your relationships, and acknowledge your value. 

3. Educate yourself, but don't get caught up on perfection.

I feel most confident when I know what I'm doing. Who wouldn't? But no one is an expert in everything. Use your time to pursue knowledge in the things you are passionate about. Practice your craft, read up on current events in your field, or explore another person's work that inspires you. Education is a powerful tool that can and will bring you closer to your goals. However, pursuing an unattainable level of expertise can be a form of procrastination. Practice your craft, but do not tell yourself that you are inadequate. You aren't. 

4. Listen, Evaluate, and Try Again.

It is okay to mess up. Everyone does. That does not make you lesser, and it does not mean that you aren't cut out for it. The best medicine you can give yourself in moments of "failure" is time, focus, and forgiveness. Listen to the criticisms you have received or reflect on your struggles by asking "What did I do well?" "What did I do poorly?" and "How do I want to improve?" Your goals do not have to be determined by people who critique you, but feedback can aid in your journey. The most important part is that you forgive yourself and move on. Inevitably, you determine the standard of your own success.

5. Just Do it.

Shelley Zalis, CEO of The Female Quotient and creator of the "Girl's Lounge" said it best:

 
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Overthinking, hesitation, and fear are the killers of dreams. Rejection is nothing in comparison to regret. Just go for it, and love yourself through every minute of it. Don't let feelings of self-doubt keep you from acknowledging your success, or achieving success if you are still on your way. 

Web Resources: 

https://hbr.org/2014/08/why-women-dont-apply-for-jobs-unless-theyre-100-qualified

https://www.thecut.com/2017/01/25-famous-women-on-impostor-syndrome-and-self-doubt.html

https://www.fastcompany.com/40421352/the-five-types-of-impostor-syndrome-and-how-to-beat-them

Additional information on minorities and imposter syndrome: http://www.apa.org/gradpsych/2013/11/fraud.aspx

A Different Take: http://www.slate.com/articles/business/the_ladder/2016/04/is_impostor_syndrome_real_and_does_it_affect_women_more_than_men.html

A Book to Read: https://www.amazon.com/Secret-Thoughts-Successful-Women-Impostor-ebook/dp/B004KPM1N0

 
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Rise: Five Women That Changed My Life

There are not always words to express the impact someone can have on your life. It could be an instantaneous connection that, from the moment you meet them, knocks you down, lifts you back up, and sends you on a new path you never expected to follow. Or, it could be slow and methodically enchanting. Over the past fifteen years, I have experienced both. There are five women that have left such an impact on me that they have shaped and inspired the ways that I engage with the world. These five women exemplify what it means to be strong female leaders. They are unique, and yet, share similar character traits that distinguish them all as remarkable. They are compassionate, resilient, and strong. They are talented, passionate, and wise. They are undeniable bad asses. 

Before I share with you their stories, I am going to tell you about me, and how five women unknowingly helped me overcome the most challenging year of my life, and inspired a painting. 

2017 was a year of struggle. From stress and illness to car accidents and financial instability to loss and death, I have faced my fair share of trials and tribulations over the past twelve months. There are more people than I can count that I need to thank for supporting me through it. In difficult times, it is easy to lose confidence. Even when others have confidence in you, the real challenge is finding that confidence again in yourself. Kim Westbrook, Sara Portwood, Anushka Pathak, Ciara Post, and Cynthia Blakeley inspire me to find it. 

One way that I seek confidence is through my artwork. Painting allows me to engage in a dialogue with myself about what's going on in my head. There is always a something that inspires me to paint. I experience a sense of euphoria when I finish a painting--that is how I know it's finished. I feel nothing. By nothing I mean that I feel the absence of something. That something that was driving me releases, and I am suddenly clear. This sensation is elusive. Despite my concerted efforts over the past few months, I couldn't attain it. I have piles of unfinished paintings in my basement that left me dejected. In my frustration, I withdrew from them, and from myself. Instead of painting, I found myself mindlessly scrolling through Facebook:

*Scrolling through bullshit. Pauses for puppy video.*

Holy shit. Kim got an internship at NASA... and now she's working at John's Hopkins?? That's fucking awesome! *beams with joy over old friend making moves*

*Scroll through more bullshit. Rewatch puppy video x3.*

God Damn. Anushka is killing it. These pictures are stunning. She is so radiant. *thinks back to seeing her on campus and her infectious smile*

There are countless moments where each of these women have left their mark on me. With each of these small instances came a huge shift. Frustration became encouragement. Stress became hope. Pressure became passion. Seeing these women doing what they love and rejoicing in their successes reignited sensations of hope, passion, and inspiration in me. Whether it was checking in on Kim, Anushka, and Sara online; talking to Ciara about travel and love and life; or meeting with Dr. Blakeley and discussing all things life and work, every engagement I had with each of them helped keep me going. 

Though I have tried; I do not have the words to truly express the impact these women have had on me. So instead, I painted. This painting, titled Rise, aims to capture the sensations of hope, passion, and inspiration that Kim, Sara, Anushka, Ciara, Cynthia, and so many other strong women instill in me. 

  Rise . Acrylic and Gloss Medium on Stretched Canvas. 48x60 in. Available for purchase.

Rise. Acrylic and Gloss Medium on Stretched Canvas. 48x60 in. Available for purchase.

Now, I would like to share their stories with you. Below are excerpts from their personal interviews, and images of them that bring them joy. I hope that their stories can bring you even a fraction of the support and encouragement that they have brought me. These women are rockstars, and deserve to be recognized. 

 

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Kimberly Westbrook

Aerospace Engineer. Artist. Youth Mentor. 

Kimberly Westbrook and I have been in school together since we were children, and participated in a Gifted and Talented arts class on Saturdays together. She is an insanely talented artist. Kim recently graduated from University of Maryland with a degree in Aerospace Engineering, interned at NASA, and is now working at Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab. Though Kim and I haven't always talked frequently, I have always been cheering her on from afar and am so amazed by her accomplishments. On top of all of this she is stunning and one of the kindest and most welcoming people I know.

What do you think is the most significant barrier to female leadership?

I believe the most significant barrier to female leadership can be described by the “imposter syndrome”. This is when a woman feels unqualified or undeserving of an opportunity that isn’t traditionally feminine. It’s a difficult problem to solve because it stems from an individual’s understanding of gender roles that they’ve been developing since they were born. I believe the best way to overcome the imposter syndrome is for powerful, successful women to be constantly and enthusiastically reaching out to younger women and showing them that they’re there, succeeding in their field, succeeding in their personal lives, and absolutely loving it. Only through this outreach will we see an increase in women holding leadership roles.

Are you the woman you thought you'd be when you were a child? Please explain.

I decided that I wanted to be an aerospace engineer in the fourth grade when two NASA engineers brought a space suit to my classroom. I’m insanely lucky to have had the opportunities and support network necessary to achieve that dream, and it’s even better than I had imagined when I was a child because I’ve fallen in love with aerospace more every year.

When you are feeling down, how do you lift yourself up? 

When I’m feeling down I write about it. I started writing in college whenever I’d get really stressed out. It helps me get to the source of my emotion and leaves me with a clear mind. Writing is a great way to communicate with yourself when you’re overwhelmed or anxious.

What does "success" mean to you? What does "failure" mean to you?

The work I do now has significantly shifted my view on success and failure. I design and build mechanical components for spacecraft. As an exploratory development engineer I’m constantly failing! Every single invention that I’ve made so far has failed and needed to be reworked in some way, and that’s a beautiful thing. I don’t get frustrated any more when something breaks. I get excited because I get to find out why I failed, and apply what I’ve learned to my future work.

How do you deal with toxic situations in your life? 

Toxic situations are a great opportunity to define who you are and who you want to be. If you’re in a situation that pulls you away from who you want to be, you have to leave it. This is never an easy call but I trust my gut on this kind of thing and once I make a decision I always stick to it.

What advice would you give to a ten year old girl? OR With the knowledge that you have now, what would you tell your ten-year-old self?

I wish I could go back and tell myself, and I would tell any young girl now, to embrace the things that make you different. When I was ten I was extremely tall for my age, maybe the tallest in my class. I became cripplingly shy because I was so uncomfortable in my own skin. Now I absolutely love my height because it's something that makes me feel unique. I would encourage any young woman to stand up straight, to stand out, to be weird, loud, and one hundred percent themselves.

 
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Sara Portwood

Caretaker. Feminist. Fitness Badass. 

Sara Portwood was the president of my sorority, ADPi, when I joined in 2014. It was informally agreed that she was, in recent years, the best example of a strong female leader we had. Even through graduation, girls would reflect on what a great example she set for the sisterhood. She frequently advocates for women's rights and gender equality. Sara lights up every room she walks in and is such a welcoming presence. She is also a fitness badass and inspired me to pursue weight lifting when I was a freshman (we would frequently run into each other at the gym and I was always in awe. Sorry if that's weird. It is what it is <3). She is currently living in Charleston, South Carolina, and studies at the College of Dental Medicine at USC.

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How would you define yourself in 3 sentences?

I am beautifully imperfect, but that understanding enables me to constantly seek change. I am strong. I am resilient.

What advice would you give to a ten year old girl? OR With the knowledge that you have now, what would you tell your ten-year-old self?

I would tell my ten-year old self a few things:

  • Play more! Don’t be so serious – the rest of your life you’ll be forced to be serious – play, giggle, be silly and don’t worry about people who judge you. Their judgement says far more about their insecurities than it does about you.
  • Enjoy the time with your little brother, parents and your pets – he’s the best and so are they. You will leave for college and your time with them becomes so limited. Love them so dearly and tell them often how you feel.
  • WEAR SUNSCREEN and DRINK MORE WATER!
  • As you start to grow up – nourish your body and lift weights. Moving iron will empower you more than you know and your body will flourish because of it. Nourishing yourself will improve your ability to function and learn, not to mention you’ll feel better.
  • The people who are “cool” in middle and high school are not truly cool – don’t worry about fitting in or being liked. College is amazing, let it open your eyes and change your perspective. Life gets so much better from there. Do you - your mega nerd nature will make you successful – love it, embrace it.
  • The small window through which you’re seeing life through now gets expanded when you hit college – EMBRACE THE CHANGE! The women you meet in college will forever open your eyes, impress, and humble you. Appreciate them with all your being – they will fuel your fire and zest for life.
  • STAND UP FOR YOUR FRIENDS. Your friends become your family when you’re away from home. Fiercely advocate for and stand up for them. And know that if you do this, when the tables are turned they’ll do the same for you.
  • Finally – my only word of caution – not everyone you meet has your best interest at heart. Listen to your Dad when he says watch your surroundings, “keep your head on a swivel” – sadly, you’ll find this saves you and your friends a time or two.

What does feminism mean to you?

To me feminism is a movement working on behalf of all women’s rights to advocate for equality of the sexes. Now that’s a pretty broad definition – I realize, but we have to start somewhere. Truthfully, I have been so heartened over the past few years to see the greater feminist movement start to embrace the idea, and I’ll pull directly from the Women’s March, “Women’s Rights are Human Rights and Human Rights are Women’s Rights”. I truly believe that feminism must advocate for a society in where all women – (black, native, poor, immigrant, disabled, lesbian, queer, trans, muslim, etc.) – all women are able to live, work, love, nurture, grow, and learn in safe and healthy environments free of systemic and structural impediments (again paraphrasing WomensMarch.com! – Love them!). I have been very privileged in my life to have faced very few of these societal impediments, very privileged. I feel very strongly that these opportunities that I have had should be open to all women. When women rise, the populations and communities within which they belong also rise.

Do you have a favorite quote? If so, what is it and why?

“To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Champions are built when no one else is watching” – unknown

These two quotes really stick with me. The first by Emerson speaks to my purpose in life. My goal as a Dentist is to improve the lives of my patients. It is my definition of success through my work. The second defines my mindset on work and work ethic. The little things you do behind the scenes each and every day – those small decisions you make – dictate your success or failure. Do the extra work, put in the time it will pay off. When you’re on stage that is not the moment you improve – you’re simply executing a task that you’ve prepared to perform. This concept of putting in the work while no one is around has been critical to my success in many aspects of my life, mentally, physically and professionally.

What one thing do you think you’re most like?

I think I’m most like a cactus – bear with me on this. The cactus does not wither under extreme circumstances, it continues to stretch towards the sky embracing the struggle and continue to blossom. During times of plenty, when it rains, it appreciates the excess and stores the water for it knows just as quickly as success comes that challenges can return – stay humble and do not waste. Cacti have thorns to protect themselves from others, but on the same token they will host the occasional desert bird in need of a home within their stalk and nourish these guests with their flowers. They don’t mind the isolation because they know they’re strong enough to continue on. Their imperfections are the key to their beauty – they bend, they adapt, they stand tall, they are strong and are vital components of the desert ecosystem. Like the cactus I am resilient, I thrive under pressure, I can stay strong in the face of great adversity and will open my arms to those in need.

 
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Anushka Pathak

Model. Writer. Businesswoman. 

Photo by Adarsh Bindal, Published in 404 Magazine

Anushka Pathak is currently studying at Emory University and is an incredibly involved member of the community (particularly in business and entrepreneurship). I met Anushka various times in my final years at Emory and was always stunned by her unwavering spirit. Every time I saw her on campus I was met with an infectious smile and enthusiastic hello. Her energy and warmth changed Emory's campus for me. Though this does not define her, Anushka shared the story of how she lost her arm to a drunk bus driver in an accident years ago. From an outside perspective, this tragedy does not seem to slow her down as she models in various campus art and fashion mags (and is by far one of the most stylish people I know). She is simply gorgeous inside and out. Though we haven't spent as much time together as I would like, I am inspired by her strength and perseverance. 

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What inspires you?

Every new day in my life is what inspires me. Because a new day inspires me to pursue a new challenge every day. I get to be part of something new and exciting almost all the time and that is what keeps me going!

Are you the woman you thought you'd be when you were a child?

Well, as a child I wanted to be a chef haha. That didn’t quite work out, but am I the person I wanted to be as a child? So far, yes. But because I learn something new almost every day, it helps me grow and evolve even more. So I would say, it’s a work in progress.

What does feminism mean to you?

It means that every single individual must have equal rights, regardless of their gender.

Do you have a favorite quote? If so, what is it and why?

“Be fearless in the pursuit of what sets your soul on fire.” – Anonymous
Because it gives me the confidence to take calculated risks and reach new heights so I can achieve my goals.

What is your story? 

In March 2012, I lost my right arm in a road accident which was caused by the carelessness of the bus driver who was intoxicated while driving the vehicle. This incident has changed me a lot and has helped me evolve as a person. It doesn’t define me but it has certainly helped shape my personality. I have learnt a lot from it and it is what pushed me to make the most of my life every single day. It drives me to accept every challenge that is thrown at me.

What does "success" mean to you? What does "failure" mean to you?

Success, according to me, is the result of your personal best effort that you put into a task. According to me, it doesn’t have to be an assigned trophy or a top 3 position, it must be a moment where you feel like you did a great job and are satisfied with what you did. Failure – is an opportunity to learn from your mistakes so your next best effort is even better than the last one.

 
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Ciara Post

Artist. Activitst. World Traveler. 

Ciara Post is currently studying at Barnard College in New York City. Ciara is a talented artist and an "old soul." She is particularly passionate about arts therapy, and travels to Sri Lanka to volunteer in a shelter for young women who have been victims of sex trafficking and sexual assault. I originally met Ciara when she joined an arts advocacy group I was a part of at Emory. She almost immediately became a huge source of inspiration and support for me in a very difficult time. Rise is inspired in part by a painting Ciara created and shared with me when I visited her in NYC this fall. When I think of Ciara, I think of her in a coffee shop with a cup of tea and a sketchbook that has a watercolor painting of flowers and the quote "The Future is Female."

What brings you fulfillment? and/or Who or what brings you joy? Why?

The happiest moment of my life to date was when I was teaching an art therapy class. The class was for young Sri Lankan women who had survived sexual abuse, a part of Emerge Lanka's (www.emergeglobal.org) art therapy and education programming for women's empowerment. We were painting self-portraits that were divided in two -- one side represented how the girls saw themselves and the other, how they thought others saw them. At the beginning, several of the girls were hunched over the workshop table, refusing to make eye contact and shielding their canvases from view. By the end of the four hours though, their bodies had opened up; they were standing, some of them singing, and when they finished their paintings, we lined them all up on the wall of the workshop room for all of us to see. "What did you like about this process?" I asked. "I realized that some people think that my life is all bad, but that there are actually good and beautiful pieces of my life too," one of the girls responded. After the girls had left, I sat in that room, staring up at the wall, grinning -- these paintings were so unique to each of the girls and I never could have dreamed up what they would look like on my own.

As an artist myself, I have discovered that art making is crucial for my own mental health. When I paint, I escape the whirring of my thoughts, release stress, and am the happiest and most present version of myself. So, sharing art as a resource to help others process trauma has become a hugely important part of my life and something that I am committed to for the future.

What does "success" mean to you? What does "failure" mean to you?

To me, success is about fulfillment, balance, and happiness. In high school I had a lot of anxiety and was far too wrapped up in the very American idea of getting into a prestigious college so that I could be successful (i.e. financially) and move on from there. Thankfully, however, I took a gap year between high school and college. During this time, I gained perspective. I lived and worked around the world; I started in Thailand, working for an animal shelter, then moved to Sri Lanka, working for Emerge (mentioned previously), next Western Samoa, as an artist in residence, and lastly Paris, waitressing and taking French classes. I discovered that other cultures, particularly in the East, have very different perceptions of what success means, with much more emphasis placed on community and balance. And I found that when I was painting and teaching art classes and had the fewest things, I was the best version of myself. As a result, I have decided that my pursuits need to center on what I love and am passionate about, which is why I have decided to take the somewhat terrifying leap of double-majoring in Art and Human Rights. My dream is to eventually start a non-profit that helps women cope with trauma through art therapy, possibly in the developing world, and to build my own art practice on the side as well.
 

What advice would you give to a ten year old girl? OR With the knowledge that you have now, what would you tell your ten-year-old self?

If I were giving advice to a ten-year-old younger version of myself, or a ten-year-old girl generally, I would say, do what you love. If you find something that makes you happy, follow that feeling and you will find that the rest tends to follow. It may be scary and overwhelming at times, but a life built around what you love and care about is a successful and exciting one. Don't let anyone tell you that you can't do it; instead surround yourself with people who tell you that you can.

 
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Dr. Cynthia Blakeley

Teacher. Editor. Mentor. Friend.

I first met Dr. Cynthia Blakeley as a junior at Emory University in her class, Memory and Memoir. To this day, Memory and Memoir is one of my favorite academic experiences. Throughout the course, we read various memoirs such as Crazy Love by Leslie Morgan Steiner, History Lessons by Clifton Crais, and A Full Life by President Jimmy Carter (we met him, too!). Dr. Blakeley facilitated conversations regarding the formation of identity, co-creation of history, and functions of the brain and memory. Dr. Blakeley's compassion for and dedication to her students is unparalleled. Every student left the classroom feeling more knowledgeable, open, and fulfilled. I know this because no one truly wanted to leave. The end of the semester was bittersweet, but her lessons continue to impact those she reached over those few short months. 

In many ways, Dr. Blakeley is a "mother" figure to her students, myself included. She is attentive and kind, and makes you feel as though you are the only person in the world when she speaks with you. During the Spring of 2017, she served on the committee of my honors thesis. At the time, I was riddled with stress and depression, but she offered a constant source of support and encouragement. Without her, I do not know if I would have completed the project. 

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Aside from my own admiration for her as a teacher, Dr. Blakeley is also a writer and editor. Before receiving her Ph.D. in Interdisciplinary Studies from Emory University, she received an MA from New College Berkeley, was a Fulbright teaching assistant in Bordeaux, and received a BA from Trinity College (Hartford). She was the first of her family to attend college. Her daughter, Hannah Rose, has followed in her footsteps and is currently a Fulbright teaching assistant in Austria. In my opinion, the world would be a better place with better education and better parenting. Dr. Blakeley is certainly doing her part.

Arts at Emory: Interview

I recently rediscovered an interview I had with Emory University's Admissions office in 2015 that highlights my involvement in the arts community. I always enjoy reading articles from the past; I can see my own growth as an artist. Though some of the goals I set out for myself in this article did not come to fruition, I am thankful for every step in my journey that has brought me to where I am now. Read the article here: 

Art Lives Here

I had a wonderful time working with photographer Elizabeth Littlefield and her production team to produce this art-short about the importance of the visual arts at Emory University. The short film series included interviews with various prominent artists and performers from Emory's community in order to showcase the passion and talent that students exhibit every day. Check out my interview below!

Emory Arts Underground Student Showcase: City of Enlightenment

Click the link to read an article by the Emory Wheel on the Emory Arts Underground Student Showcase: City of Enlightenment. This student showcase took place on March 19, 2016, and showcased over 70 student artists including sculpture, metal working, jewelry making, photography, drawing, painting, poetry, spoken word, dance, and musical performances.