The “Big Sister” Talk Every Tween Deserves

Polina Mogilevsky

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Middle school has the potential to be a young girl’s fondest memory or greatest nightmare. Everything is changing; you might get more shy or (the horror!) get braces. Don’t you just wish you had an older sister tell you how to navigate middle school, minimize the tension and awkwardness, and maximize your potential to be confident and successful later on?

Meet GEMFest, a conference created by high school girls that aims to give middle schoolers the “big sister” advice we all wish we had. This conference introduces young girls to a variety of interests and potential hobbies through a variety of workshops and strong, confident female keynote speakers.

On Friday, April 5, 2019, I got to sit down with Sage’s very own girlboss and co-founder of the GEMfest event and service learning project: senior Eliza Feffer.

Keep reading to see Eliza and I talk about everything from her inspiration for GEMFest to what empowerment personally means to her.

Keep reading to see Eliza and I talk about everything from her inspiration for GEMFest to what empowerment personally means to her.

Q: What inspired you to start GemFest?

A: “When I was in middle school, I was definitely ambitious and had a lot of different interests, but I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do or how to pursue that… I was interested in entrepreneurship and social media… I was really into YouTube and the beauty industry, but I didn’t know what I could do with that. In middle school there are so many different insecurities you have, and you’re changing a lot and don’t really know how to express yourself. With starting GEMFest we really wanted to give girls who are like-minded and interested in business or STEM or leadership somewhere to go and not be afraid to learn and ask questions about how to navigate middle school.”

Q: What is one of the greatest challenges you have overcome when designing and implementing this project?

A: “The biggest challenge was definitely the first year when we were establishing what it even means to make a conference and what this [would] even look like and… how we [could] take all of our ideas and actually make it into something that is cohesive, exciting and fun, but also different and a learning experience. [Another challenge was] recruiting speakers, because we’re asking them to come for free and it’s a lot of time and effort for them. We wanted to make sure we had really strong and diverse speakers.”

Q: What is you favorite part about the event?

A: “ For the past two years, [my favorite part has been] when everybody is getting ready in the lobby and you have the first few girls coming in and you see everything come to life; especially that first year we didn’t know how it was going to go. When we had our first Keynote, the energy was so high and it was just really amazing to see all these girls actually there and excited.”

Q: Who is your role model?

A: “I have a lot of really strong women in my life. Both of my grandmothers are still working, and that’s really inspirational to me because they both work in fields that are generally male dominated. My grandma was one of the first female rabbis ordained in the U.S. and she started that career when she was fifty. That’s really inspirational to me because she was really passionate about it and just went for it, even though it wasn’t really done before. A lot of my inspiration is from the strong women I know and also seeing my friends and what they do. Being proud of their accomplishments is also a source of inspiration and energy for me.”

Q: What advice do you have for younger girls in the Sage Hill community and beyond?

A: “One of the things that has helped me is not really worrying about what other people are doing and just pursuing what I’m interested in. Just don’t stress so much about your future and have fun while you’re at Sage because it’s a great place to try new things and opportunities.”

Q: What do you hope to happen to GEMFest when you graduate?

A: “I know GEMFest will continue as a service learning group since it will be passed down to our junior members and I trust them to continue it, and then we also have our GEMbassador program. Something I’ve heard from different teachers and adults is ‘What about boys? We need men to empower women as well’, so it’s finding that balance between having that safe space for girls and [figuring out] how boys can get involved more.”

Q: What are GEMbassadors?

A: “The GEMbassador program is new. It’s a year-round group [program] and we’ve had some smaller, more intimate events on campus.”

Q: What does girls’ empowerment mean to you and what changes do you hope to see in the Sage community and the world?

A: “Empowerment has to most importantly come from you. You have to have that inner spark and inner confidence. While it’s also important to have communities that empower you, [empowerment] is all about teaching yourself that you can go forward…with confidence.”

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