4th Annual WIT: Women Inspiring Tomorrow Conference welcomes record number of YPC choristers and alumnae

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Laura Schwab, President of Aston Martin the Americas and WIT Director and Founder Elizabeth Núñez speak candidly during a question and answer session with YPC choristers

On April 28, over 170 women of all ages gathered at the Grand Hyatt New York for the 2018 Women Inspiring Tomorrow Conference, where YPC choristers and alumnae met accomplished women in fields ranging from the automotive and insurance industries to the arts, education and law.  YPC’s mentoring and career planning event began with lively informal conversations on the young women’s aspirations—in business, fashion, musical theater and other areas.  Girls ages 13 to 18 received encouragement from role models and YPC alumnae while practicing their networking skills. Executive Coach Raleigh Mayer delved into the program’s theme, Encourage and Engage, by leading all the guests in an exercise: without speaking, they circled the room to shake hands with as many people as possible.  Conducted in silence, the exercise let participants connect through eye contact, a friendly smile and body language.

Gravitas Guru Raleigh Mayer leads attendees in a warm-up

YPC choristers sit with WIT Pros for a formal luncheon

Raleigh shared advice on the best way to introduce oneself to a stranger and how to connect in any setting by projecting confidence and enthusiasm and “being in the moment,” qualities choristers develop at YPC.  “Only connect,” Raleigh reminded the crowd, quoting the great English novelist E.M. Forster, who stressed the strength of personal relationships.  She urged young women not to impose their own glass ceiling – or “lip gloss ceiling” – by being too perfectionistic, waiting for permission or avoiding risks.  “If you make a mistake,” she said, “Apologize.”

Elizabeth Núñez leads an alumnae panel with Fatima Jernigan, Emma Brondolo and Dunia Rkein

Elizabeth Núñez, Director and Founder of WIT, led three YPC alumnae in a candid panel discussion about their career paths and the role of YPC.  Fatima Jernigan, who teaches mathematics in New York City, spoke about how she chooses to give “200 percent” to any challenge she undertakes—and to be herself.  “At YPC,” she said, “we all have one thing in common. That is music and music is universal.” Emma Brondolo, who is the Artistic Director of of YPC@Thurnauer, a YPC-inspired program at the JCC Thurnauer School of Music in Tenafly, NJ, was also influenced by the passionate commitment of YPC’s faculty and choristers. Today, if she is not passionate about what she is doing, she rethinks it. Dunia Rkein, an attorney at Willkie, Farr & Gallagher who serves as an alumni representative on YPC’s Board, urged choristers to take full advantage of every opportunity at YPC.

Laura Schwab speaks with choristers

YPC choristers introduce themselves to WIT Pros

During a formal luncheon, Elizabeth introduced keynote speaker Laura Schwab, President of Aston Martin the Americas.  As one of only two women in leadership roles in the automotive industry, Laura described how she often worked “harder than anybody else” studying late and dedicating herself to every challenge in order to thrive in the male dominated field. Her positive attitude, sense of humor and refusal to be intimidated all served her well. She also stressed the importance of unexpected life developments. “I wanted to be one of the first female sports casters,” she noted of her earliest ambitions. She became successful by giving her work her all as soon as she had landed her first job at a small company. “It came down to my attitude,” she said.  She was determined to get her foot in the door and to prove she had “something no one else does.” Believing in oneself is key. “Don’t be afraid to take a chance.  You can’t be scared to admit you don’t know everything.”

Choristers talk about their career aspirations with alumnae and WIT Pros

Laura Schwab, Dunia Rkein, and Elizabeth Núñez

Find a mentor, she advised, and make it clear that you want to learn from them. “Ask for advice and help.  My mentors were all men.  They helped push my career and gave me opportunities.  I never let my fear of maybe not knowing how to do something hold me back.  And I was not afraid to move,” she commented, having relocated overseas more than once to take on new responsibilities.  She also spoke about obstacles, such as once being told by a senior manager that she was too young to lead. “What do you think you know?” he demanded in a meeting.  “You look like you’re 12!” With poise, resiliency and determination she communicated her expertise and credentials. Laura has brought single-minded focus to her career and now holds “the coolest job in the world,” and recently added motherhood to her biography. “I always thought you couldn’t do both,” she said about being a president and a parent. “That’s not true.  You can do whatever you want, really.” As a leader, she values teamwork over individual performance. “There’s room for all of us to be successful,” she remarked, an attitude she learned from sports—and that resonated with the young women in the room from their experiences performing with the chorus. “Be part of a team. Care about people,” she advised, as the conference concluded with a beautiful rendition of “Give Us Hope.”

Women Inspiring Tomorrow is made possible through the generous support of the Patrina Foundation and the contributions of Traveler’s Insurance.

Photos by Stephanie Berger.