Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Q&A with Bonnie St. John

On Friday, GSSJC held its annual Success to Significance luncheon. The Council honored Dr. Mary McIntire, dean of the Glasscock School of Continuing Studies at Rice University, and welcomed keynote speaker Bonnie St. John, the first African-American Olympic Ski Medalist, amputee, Rhodes Scholar, former White House official, best-selling author and Girl Scout. After the event, we got the chance to ask Bonnie a couple questions about her experiences in Girl Scouting and why girl leadership is so important. Check out our Q&A below!

Before Success to Significance Friday, April 26,
Bonnie St. John visited with middle school
Girl Scouts at YES Prep in Houston.
Tell me about your experience as a Girl Scout.
I was only in it for a couple of years in elementary school. We did crafts. I had to earn my way to go camping. I remember doing an international dinner where everyone had to bring foods from different countries. My favorite part was getting together with the girls and having a place where girls could be strong together.

Do you have a favorite Girl Scout memory?
The camping trip I remember was a big deal because it was a chance to go away. It was really special. I had to earn my way through selling cookies, and it was a week-long trip.

What are some lessons you learning in Girl Scouts? What lessons do you see Girl Scouting teaching girls now that you have perspective?
Knocking door to door selling cookies - now I'm in my own business, and I still have to knock on enough doors to make my earning. It teaches you hard work, being independent and being empowered.

Why are leadership skills important for girls to learn?
I think it's important for our society because we need more women leaders, more women's voices at the table to help solve problems than we have. There's so much going on in the world that we need women leaders to help solve problems, so it's important that we get girls thinking about leadership early so we can have their voices at the table.

It's important for the girls themselves so they can reach their potential, imagine doing everything and pave the way for the girls behind them. I think it makes our society better, makes the girls better and creates more opportunities for other girls.

How have leadership skills shaped you?
I've had the chance to be at world-class levels in so many different areas. I was a Rhodes Scholar with some of the smartest people in the world in England. I worked in the Clinton administration at the White House, so I got to work in politics. I worked on Wall Street, and in the Olympics I saw how people lead in sports. Getting to see so many different kinds of leadership and then being able to be an independent business woman, shape my own destiny and influence so many other people has shaped my entire life. Leadership skills have shaped my entire life.

Is there anyone who is your role model for leadership?
I have to admit, the first person I thought of was Ben Franklin. When I was fifth grade, I read his autobiography and I thought it was so great because he didn't have a lot to start with. He went into business and made himself strong. He studied hard and made himself smarter, and he wrote inspirational books and went on to be in world politics. I love that he strived to be better in every aspect of his life and that he was creative in his leadership. Those are things I like to do.

Why would you encourage girls to get involved with Girl Scouts and remain a member?
Some people think Girl Scouts is for little girls, but as you get into high school there are so many opportunities for travel, unique experiences and to do things you can put on your resume to help you get into college. I think those are exciting reasons, but personal growth from leadership and having the opportunity to make a difference for the girls behind them is going to shape their opportunities in the future and their character.

What else would you like to add?
I go to so many difference places around the country, and I meet Girl Scouts all over. What I notice that they have in common is they are intelligent, they're asking good questions, they're articulate and have a vision of where they want to go. To me, that's something that's unique about Girl Scouts. Sports are great - it gives you confidence and vigor and energy, but that vision and sense of being able to ask a very specific question and [the girl] having a plan, goals and drive? Girl Scouts does that.

Note: You can purchase Bonnie St. John's book, "How Great Women Lead," at the Girl Scout Shop in Houston. A limited number of books are available and proceeds directly benefit GSSJC.