Sarah Kenney '94

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    1994

    Current job title and employer and briefly describe what it is you do: Chief Policy Officer, Let’s Grow Kids

    Academic experience at Saint Michael's College help prepare you for your career: I studied political science. Some of my closest friendships were formed at St. Michael’s—the kind of friends who will always be in your heart, even if you go months or years without seeing each other regularly. I was deeply influenced by some incredible professors who helped me form an appreciation of political systems and their impact on individual lives, cultures different from mine, powerful poetry and prose, and the transformative power of many voices coming together to create change.

    In a few sentences, tell us about yourself: I’m a parent of a middle schooler and an activist. I spent many years advocating in the Vermont Statehouse for survivors of sexual and domestic violence, and I’m now working to achieve high-quality, affordable child care for all Vermont’s children. I grew up in a log cabin in the woods of Vermont, traveled a lot, and lived in some truly gorgeous places, and decided that when I settled down I wanted to live within walking distance of groceries. I’m happy to have landed with my family in an amazing neighborhood in the Old North End of Burlington, with five international food markets within a few blocks.

    What advice would you give to women students: You are the expert in your own experience. So much of the world tries to tell us that our feelings and opinions aren’t real or valid, and it’s hard not to internalize that message and feel like we have to conform to a fictionalized idea of perfection. I think I was in my late 30s when I finally felt comfortable admitting I didn’t know something, or that I’d been wrong about something, without feeling like a failure. I’ve been listening to poet Amanda Gorman and she talks beautifully about managing feelings of inadequacy by using tools to make herself feel larger and stronger—not in a narcissistic way, but by “recognizing the size and the space and the significance that I occupy all on my own, without demeaning anybody else.” I want all of us to have the freedom and support to develop tools to own our whole selves, with all of our flaws, and feel confident about our ability to have impact.

    What are some strategies that can help women achieve a more prominent role in their organizations: Don’t be afraid to ask for what you want. I’ve hired and supervised a lot of staff, and my experience is that white men rarely hesitate to advocate for themselves — whether it’s higher pay, promotions, or to take on projects that inspire them and allow them to shine. But as a woman I was socialized to not make waves, to put my head down and work hard and prove I was worthy, and wait for good things to come my way. Don’t wait for someone to finally notice that you’re great at what you do and still can’t pay your rent! Ask for what you need to be able to thrive, and find allies who can support you day-to-day. And support other womxn or folx who might also be struggling to get ahead because of racism, homophobia, misogyny, and other forms of oppression. It’s a cliché but so true — we’re stronger when we support each other. And if your job really just makes you miserable, look for another one! Don’t stay in a role that’s a terrible fit for you out of some sense of obligation or despair. If you’re unhappy and you have other employment options, consider them. Moving on can sometimes be a gift, both for yourself and your workplace.

    What keeps you motivated and driven on a daily basis: The deeply ingrained injustice and inequity that are embedded in our culture and systems in so many ways keep me driven. It’s pretty motivating to know that so many people in the world are suffering all the time. It can also be overwhelming, but I think it’s up to each of us to take whatever small steps we can each day. And some days that action is focusing inward, spending time with our families or friends or doing something to recharge ourselves so we can go back out and take some more small steps.

    What woman most inspires you and why: So, so many — it’s hard to choose! For the past month it’s been Amanda Gorman, the first National Youth Poet Laureate and the youngest ever inaugural poet. I challenge you to watch her perform her poems, to listen to her in interviews, and not feel deeply inspired. Her ability to weave such force, conviction, beauty, and inspiration with words is profound. Passages like this have helped me get through some hard days recently: “We will not march back to what was but move to what shall be, a country that is bruised but whole, benevolent but bold, fierce and free, we will not be turned around or interrupted by intimidation because we know our inaction and inertia will be the inheritance of the next generation, our blunders become their burden. But one thing is certain: if we merge mercy with might and might with right, then love becomes our legacy and change our children’s birthright.”

    She beautifully summarizes all the reasons that I’ve been working for decades in nonprofits that are seeking to create change.