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Marymount Alumna Eliza Giles Talks About the Importance of Leadership

In addition to a strong record of providing an education that provides its students with the vital 21st-century skills they will need for success in the future, Marymount of Santa Barbara produces graduates who go on to various positions of leadership. The fact that Marymount helps its graduates feel prepared to lead is demonstrated best by some of its most recent graduates.

Eliza Giles
Eliza Giles

This interview is with Eliza Giles, a Marymount alumna currently in high school who has the inclination, the courage and the desire to lead and to make a difference.

Eighteen-year-old Giles is a senior at Cate School and will be attending the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Nursing in the fall. In 2012, she received the National Philanthropic Association’s Youth Philanthropist of the Year Award for Santa Barbara and Ventura counties.

As one of 15 prefects at Cate, Giles has had ample opportunity to be a leader in her school community and live up to the school motto “Servons” (“Let Us Serve”). Her thoughtful, personal style of leadership has helped her to discover a passion for connecting with others in meaningful and productive ways and explore the world through service.

Q: What do you think are important qualities in a leader?

Giles: As a Cate prefect this year, I went to a prefect retreat before the start of school at which we were asked to acknowledge and identify our strengths and weaknesses. We talked about capitalizing on our strengths while surrounding ourselves with a team to support our weaknesses. I think leadership is about a lot more than one person. A leader should not be the only one working while everyone else stands back and watches. I think that one’s ability to surround oneself with supportive people is key to being a good leader.

Being comfortable with yourself is another important quality in a leader. At Marymount, I was always able to be myself. Many middle school students are distracted by social anxiety; however, the environment at Marymount helped me to focus on my own standards for myself. Leading others is about getting comfortable enough with yourself that you feel you can reach out to others.

Q. Do you think that having opportunities to lead is important in middle school?

Giles: Yes, absolutely. When I was in middle school at Marymount, I took part in the leadership program. I was surrounded by supportive classmates and faculty and was given the opportunity and the resources to succeed. I started by organizing small events like special lunch deliveries and working in the Snack Shack. Now I run fundraisers involving over 200 people. Marymount helped me learn how to make a tangible plan and then proceed in a logical way. I learned to follow through on my ideas and these early leadership opportunities also taught me how good it feels to make things happen.

Q: The term “helping students be their best selves” is said a lot at Marymount. Can you apply this to your experience in leadership?

Giles: My leadership style is collaborative. I seek to work with others and like to share what I am passionate about. It’s important for students — high school students and middle school students, too — to not be afraid to try new things. Something you try may not end up being your passion, but you have to give it a try.

I feel very fortunate that I have found my calling at my age — my “best self.” I would not have been able to do this without my supportive family, teachers and friends, or if I had not been given the opportunity to try different things. What started out as a regularly scheduled Tuesday evening school outing to serve the community grew into something more for me. I learned that I benefit from connecting with others and hearing their stories. I now organize those school outings for other students at Cate.

Q. How does a busy student like yourself, who plays an instrument (cello), is involved in athletics and attends a demanding academic school like Cate accomplish so much?

Giles: Once I found my niche, it did not feel like work and it made it easier to do. Serving others relieved the stress of my schoolwork and allowed me to relax from athletics. It’s a sanctuary for me.

Q: Your desire to serve has taken you abroad on several occasions. Can you tell me about those trips?

Giles: I participated this year in a program called RoundSquare International Service, of which Cate School is a member. We went to South Africa to take part as delegates in an international school conference with the theme “no existence without coexistence” and do service work. We worked in a school outside Penryn where many of the children we worked with had never met Americans. We also raised money for the Prince Alexander Fund.

I have also participated in a Global Roots service trip to Ecuador during which we built a community center, soccer bleachers and a community oven. I did a home-stay with a family for three weeks. Even though I was sad to leave — the family I stayed with had become like a real family to me — I loved being able to leave behind sustainable resources like the ones we built.

Marymount is an independent coeducational school, junior kindergarten through eightth grade, on a picturesque 10-acre campus nestled on the Santa Barbara Riviera. Building on a 75-year tradition of excellence, the educators at Marymount have crafted a unique learning experience that blends mastery of core subjects with acquisition of the essential skills students need to navigate and be successful in a rapidly evolving world.

— Molly Seguel is the admissions director for Marymount of Santa Barbara.

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