It’s true what they say. You really can pick out the NDP girl in a crowd. And no, not because of the iconic blue dress. I’m talking about long after the uniform’s been traded in for individual style. Long after graduation. I’m talking about NDP alum. Case in point:
Bluenote made a deal with the NDP Development Staff that we’d do a blog profile on the NDP alum class that had the highest participation in “Mini Gym Meet.” A bit of an overpromise on Bluenote’s part since any given class averages over 120 graduates. Still, a deal’s a deal. So when we were informed that the Class of 2000 had the most members in attendance at MGM 2014, we set up an interview with, er,uh… 2.5% of the class. OK, 3 girls. Now hold on. Don’t get your cuff and collar in a knot. Because when you hear what these three extraordinary young women had to say, I think you’ll agree they represent the very best of NDP. But back to picking them out in a crowd.
A meeting was set up for 8PM on a Monday night at a local Panera. I walked in and scanned the room. All the tables were filled. Several were occupied by young women meeting over tea, half eaten salads, and one open digital device or another. I spied a table of three very attractive women who exuded a certain centered confidence and loving camaraderie, and approached them with certainty.
“Let me guess. NDP, Class of 2000,” I said, addressing the women. Morgan Somerville, the organizer of the meeting, popped out of her seat and extended a welcoming hand towards me. The onyx and gold on one of her fingers cemented my conviction.
“That’s us!” She smiled proudly. Morgan introduced me to her fellow classmates and old friends, Daley Formby Navalowsky (white blazer girl, 2000) and Theresa Majchrzak Tsamoutalis. And with that, we were off and running. Which brings us to “The Bond.” It wasn’t just the quiet confidence they exuded or the joy they clearly took in each other’s company. It was the invisible but palpable bond they shared. Not just with each other and their absent classmates, but with every NDP alum who’s come before or after them. Including this alumna interviewer who is 30 years their senior. They could have been standoffish or had their guard up. It would have been understandable. I was essentially a stranger, after all. But The Bond allowed us all to talk with a certain shorthand and shared culture that made us instantly recognizable and familiar to each other. At first, the conversation inclined towards some harmless if biased boasting:
“We had a ridiculously talented class,” beamed Morgan when asked what made the Class of Green & White so special.
“Yeah! We killed it at Gym Meet,” laughed Daley, modestly offering the fact that they almost won junior year and did win senior year as proof of said talent.
“And we get credit for inventing the Blue Blazer at our 5th reunion!” Added Morgan, as if it were an accomplishment of the highest order.
“Uh…the blue blazer?” I asked with a look of confusion. “But I thought that was…”
“You know, the drink. A shot of vodka, Sprite, and Blue Curacao.”
“Ah! That Blue Blazer! You must be so proud…”
For a few more minutes the conversation continued along the thoroughly entertaining lines of high school antics and insecurities, punishments meted, lessons learned, and confessions of what they looked like back in the late ’90’s before they discovered blonde highlights and Brazilian blowouts.
I have always found the combination of humility and humor to be most attractive. Morgan, Daley, and Theresa did not disappoint. All of them are gorgeous, accomplished, wildly successful, and big-hearted, yet each gave a huge part of the credit to NDP.
“I am the woman I am today because of NDP,” Morgan, the Director of Student Services at Stevenson University, stated outright. Daley and Theresa agreed.
“Notre Dame made us strong women,” said Daley, an executive Corporate Recruiter for GP Strategies. She is also on the alumni board of her college alma mater, Washington & Lee, where, for a time, she ran the scholarship process. “I am always so proud when an NDP girl walks in the room for her scholarship interview. It’s true. You can identify them at first sight. NDP girls just have a poise and charisma. A confidence without arrogance. The NDP ‘product’ is just so well-rounded. This year, in fact, an NDP girl was awarded the scholarship. And well deserved. I couldn’t have been more proud. NDP taught us how to strike a delicate but important balance between confidence and cockiness. Between strength and compassion. You don’t see that same winning combination coming out of many other schools. It’s a real point of comparison.”
It was at this juncture in the conversation that Theresa began to tear up. Now, just to put this in context, let me just say that Theresa did not strike me as a shrinking violet. She can hold her own in a women’s gabfest and in a man’s world. In fact, as a businesswoman…she has done just that. She works in the male-dominated elevator industry where for years she was employed by the industry leader, Otis Worldwide. But in 2009, with changes in some state laws, she saw an opportunity to start her own company and jumped at the chance. She is now the President and CEO of Allsafe Elevator Inspections, which has single handedly cornered the market. She is competitive and demanding but always treats her employees and clients with respect and fairness. Can you say ‘strong but sensitive’?
“I thank my mother every day for sending me to NDP,” Theresa sniffled as the tears welled. “I agree with Morgan and Daley. NDP made me who I am today. They offered such support. They challenged me academically and personally. And they provided a safe place for me to try and fail, try again, and eventually succeed. As a result, there’s very little that intimidates me now.”
“Theresa’s right,” Daley added. “The warmth of the school is palpable. But let me make this clear. They nurtured. They didn’t coddle. There’s a big difference.”
“That’s right,” asserted Morgan. “Let me tell you! NDP was more challenging than college!”
“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told that.” Bluenote chimed.
“It’s true,” Theresa said, “NDP gave us all the tools we needed to be successful. But there was something more…”
“…Yes,” Morgan jumped in. “They taught us about respect. And when we made mistakes that suggested disrespect…well, we only had to be chastised once. We never did it again.”
That is when the strong but gentle Theresa began to tear up again. Actually, she cried. Right there in the middle of Panera. “They called us to something important…”
“…Something bigger than yourself…” said Morgan.
“…What were the lyrics?…” asked Theresa, referring to a hymn they used to sing.
“They’re on the cafeteria wall now…” mused Morgan.
And then Theresa began a wavery rendition through her tears:
“We are called to act with justice. We are called to love tenderly. We are called to serve one another. To walk humbly with God…”
Daley and Theresa dabbed at their tears. Morgan just nodded her head in reverie.
“Yeah. That lesson really sunk in with us,” Morgan said.
“They opened our eyes to the needs of the world. Remember the Romanian orphans? Remember how every class had to raise money for a brick walkway at NDP and we wanted to give our money to the orphans instead? And when they asked us why, we just told them, ‘Because you taught us so.’ Remember?” Morgan asked her classmates. Theresa and Daley nodded quietly. Needless to say, the money went to the orphans. Since then, the girls and their classmates have become involved in a variety of important causes. The three of them alone work and raise money and awareness for such issues as breast cancer research, animal rescue, and Hurricane Katrina and Sandy victims.
“When Katrina hit,” explained Morgan, “I told my boss that I was going to take some time and some Stevenson students to New Orleans to help out and told him it would be great if it were a school sanctioned event.”
“How did he respond?” I asked.
“He asked me if he really had a choice.”
“I told him not really.” End of discussion. Beginning of serving one another. Since then, every year Morgan has taken a group of students to help out the victims of natural disasters in Louisiana and New Jersey. And it’s not just strangers that these women reach out to.
“NDP girls will always come together for each other,” Daley stated. “Whatever the need.”
“It’s like having a whole other family,” confirmed Morgan. “Right now, 114 of us are connected on Facebook*. And we all understand about giving back.”
“Right,” said Theresa through more tears. “We weren’t just given tools for our own success. We were given tools to do great things outside of ourselves.”
I could have talked with these remarkable young women all night. But I knew they still had some catching up to do so I left them to their scrapbooks and tea.
Yup, you can spot an NDP girl a mile away. There are all sorts of inner and outer telltale signs. Confidence, beauty, success, spirit. And love. Lots of love. I may have only interviewed 2.5% of the fantastic class of 2000…but they represented 100% of the NDP spirit.
* Just search NDP Class of 2000 on Facebook.