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Embracing Our Tomorrows

President Christina Friedhoff: Our storied past and bright future

As the first school Mass of the year concluded and our young women filed out of the auditorium, I was reminded again of how important tradition and faith are to the essence of St. Mary's Academy, and of how blessed we are to be a part of the 158-year history of this incredible school.

We are proud to recall our history, because it is so impressive and includes thousands of positively impacted women. Milestones at St. Mary's tend to be significant, and our past continues to inform who we are today. But it is also true that from the very first days of St. Mary's Academy, we have faced forward. From the first 12 Sisters of the Holy Names who made the harrowing journey to Portland from French Canada, to the progressive educators who always knew that girls deserved the best educational opportunities available, to how we are planning today to best serve the needs of 21st century, all-girls education and those of the world we all live in—it doesn't take much of a look back to realize that we've always looked ahead.

A big part of our future is how we will tell our own story. Last spring we introduced our new school logo and branding in an effort to honor our history and unique mission while updating how we are seen. I'm happy to say that the new branding has been met with overwhelmingly positive response, and if you are on campus you'll surely notice new signage and evidence of our "We Believe" statements; those statements are probably my favorite outcome of the work done by our branding task force, and they have been extremely well received by our faculty and students. You can find a short, student-produced "We Believe" video on our brand-new website, launched just last month. If you've not already visited the new site, I invite you to explore it soon. While we still are learning to take advantage of all the site has to offer, it is already a huge improvement for users when it comes to look and feel, and ease of use.

You might also have seen our school logo on signs at the Post Office Block. As we mentioned over the summer, part of the St. Mary's-owned block is being used as a staging area for the Broadway Tower project across the street. Among the trucks and equipment is a huge sign proclaiming "Future Site of St. Mary's Academy Campus Expansion." And indeed, we continue to finalize our plans for the new school building, which will allow us to serve the needs of students for decades to come, and will greatly expand our ability to provide a 21st century learning environment for curious, innovative SMA students of the world, students like those who are already thriving today in activities like Science Olympiad, robotics and the performing arts. The purchase of the Post Office Block and the planning of the St. Mary's Academy property development task force reaffirm the commitment the Sisters and our Board of Directors have to all-girls education, even and especially in a rapidly changing world around us.

Negotiating that world as an all-girls school is something we have in common with many others. We have always had the great privilege to learn from the experiences and perspectives of our sister SNJM schools, and last spring we joined the National Coalition of Girls Schools, a leading advocacy and research group with over 200 member schools from across the U.S. and abroad. We have already benefitted from our membership in NCGS, whose research on the advantages of an all-girls education is now featured in how we talk about the St. Mary's difference to prospective parents and others. We are just getting started with NCGS and are looking forward to learning much more from the organization and its members.

We share with those 200 NCGS schools around the world an understanding of how providing a dynamic learning environment allows for the discovery and development of the power of young women. Enrollment in St. Mary's Academy places girls in a community that is grounded in the Catholic faith and that nurtures their minds, bodies and spirits, while enabling them to grow as individuals and become leaders.

We recognize that we live this mission within an ever changing world; that's why we focus on responsibly addressing shifts in our society in a way that best serves our students, our school and our community. We have had conversations with our board, faculty and staff to discuss some of these topics and their relevance to all-girls education.

One of the items the board is discussing has led us to form a gender identity task force that will provide recommendations and guidance on gender identity for current and future classes within the context of our all-girls mission. The task force will be charged with consulting experts, speaking to St. Mary's Academy community members and gathering insight from other all-female institutions who are addressing similar issues to provide informed recommendations to the school.

As an all-girls, Catholic, college-prep school, a constant thread through the St. Mary's Academy experience is leadership, and I am so pleased to see what has always been an impressive student leadership program grow into something even greater. Over 60 of our student leaders spent two days (and an overnight—I am amazed at their enthusiasm for camping out on the floors of the Commons!) in August on campus for the second-annual "Lead the Way, SMA!" retreat, part of a yearlong series of continuing education aimed at giving student leaders the tools to empower all St. Mary's students to be a part of the school's culture. What I love most about student leadership at St. Mary's is that these young women lead now—today. It's something visible and evident every day, from the morning announcements through after-school activities, and it truly warms my heart.

There has never been a more exciting time to be part of the St. Mary's Academy community. Our 158 years of dedication to educating and developing young women has led us to today, when we get to both enjoy the energy of a new school year and plan for an tremendously significant project to expand our campus. That we have our Open House for the Class of 2021 in just days is proof that while we should cherish where we are, time stands still for no one. It's no wonder that from the very beginning, SMA has always enthusiastically embraced its tomorrows.

May God Bless You,

Christina Friedhoff

President