From its founding in 1907, the Castilleja School has consistently graduated excellent women. The all-girls school has always been a leader in inspiring intellectual discourse, guiding the pursuit of wisdom, and educating the women who go on to be our leaders. However, I am the first person to graduate Castilleja as a young man.
While Castilleja certainly deserves its high regard for helping in the development of young women, I will add to the praise: Castilleja was the best preparation I could have hoped for to become an excellent man.
I entered Castilleja in 2009 as an sixth-grade girl. Over my seven years there, I realized that I was a transgender boy.
Sophomore year, I decided that I could no longer hide. I wanted to change my name, be referred to by he/him pronouns, take testosterone, get chest surgery, and let everyone know that despite being a girl for the prior 15 years, I was growing into a man.
I also realized, however, that Castilleja was not a school intended for boys. I was unsure if I would be allowed to stay. Upon assurance that I would continue to be welcome, I was unsure if I wanted to stay.
I ultimately made what retrospectively was one of the best decisions of my life: to be openly transgender and to stay at Castilleja. Castilleja was -- and always will be -- my home. I felt welcomed and respected and loved for all of my time there and couldn't imagine giving that up. I knew that finishing my last two years of high school as the one boy at an all-girls' school would present its own set of challenges, but I thought it would be worth it. It absolutely was.
One of the most important lessons that I learned at Castilleja -- and that my male peers across the country by no means encountered as fully as I did -- is that women are extraordinarily talented, brilliant and capable. I hope this does not strike anyone as a revolutionary concept, but even today, it can be easily overlooked.
Women still have less airtime in classroom discussions, are far less likely to hold positions of authority at work, and receive less pay for the same job. It is no surprise that boys across the country grow up believing that they have some right or predisposition to power and respect that girls do not. Even boys in the most gender-equal households with the most feminist principles are socialized to see men as superior.
I, however, was largely spared the ingraining of this falsehood. To me, the idea of women filling positions often dominated by men -- the president, the CEO, the data analyst or engineer or surgeon, the team captain, the role model, the loudest voice in the room -- is not merely an idea but rather the only reality I have ever known.
At Castilleja, every club I joined was led by a woman, every decision on student government was made by a woman, every opinion or reflection or analysis shared in class was by a woman, every challenge to my own understanding was presented by a woman. I know with unwavering certainty that women not only can be but unquestionably are strong, confident, bold, brilliant, analytical, independent, focused, logical, passionate and disciplined.
At Castilleja, there is no option for a characteristic or aptitude or subject area to be reserved for men. Women adeptly fulfill every role that a man ever could.
To be a good man in the world of today and of tomorrow, it is essential to understand that women are fully capable of embodying all things traditionally more "masculine." I know this to be true, and I credit the strength of my conviction to Castilleja.
However, Castilleja also taught me something of equal importance, and something that is certainly less recognized: that all things "feminine" are every bit as valid, interesting, important and worthy of appreciation. In a world where traditionally masculine traits are disproportionately valued, it is an irreplaceable opportunity to freely explore and understand the immense worth of traits traditionally considered to be feminine.
Most parents of youth today are familiar with second-wave feminism, but even that ideology has male-centric value systems: "progressive" cultural norms often allow girls to be more like boys but deny boys the opportunity to be more like girls. Being surrounded by girls gave me the singular opportunity to be a boy who was allowed to act "like a girl" and was therefore allowed to form my understanding of myself and of the world free of gendered constraints.
At Castilleja, I learned how to have a critical mind, but I also learned how to have an open and compassionate heart. I learned that it is OK to cry, to ask for help, to be afraid.
I learned how to listen -- not just wait for my turn to speak but to receive the other's words as a gift. I learned how to be patient. I learned that "I feel" can be just as -- and sometimes more -- powerful than "I know" or "I think."
I learned how to be gentle, soft and kind. I learned that I am relationship-centered, and no matter what field of study I pursue, I want to spend my life caring for others.
I learned that many of the best things in life cannot be seen or touched, and sometimes not even understood. I learned how to empathize, how to comfort and how to nurture.
As I go into college and the vast world beyond it as the young man I have finally become, I am forever grateful to Castilleja for teaching me, above anything else, how to love freely, love wholly and love boundlessly.