A chartered accountant with a career in finance and business administration, Sarah is also an ESU alumna, a member of the London Branch committee and one of our trustees. She credits the ESU with her abiding interest in debating ideas and exploring culture, helped no doubt by her international upbringing which included stints in Zambia, the Middle East and Cornwall. Here, she tells us a little bit more about herself.
Why were you happy to become a trustee of the ESU?
The ESU played an important role in my youth. It gave me a special window to the world, one which represented new horizons and opportunity. I believe the principles underpinning the ESU: international relationships, quality discussion, the value of engaging with different cultures, ideas and people are as relevant today as they ever have been. I’m humbled to be able to contribute to an organisation that has done so much for me and many thousands of other young people.
I’m looking forward to using my skills to help the ESU go forward, building an ever-stronger future, with a focus on keeping the organisation lively, vibrant, and relevant for all its members.
As a child you took part in our Public Speaking Competition – what did you get out of it?
I learnt a lot, and not just the ‘big stuff’ of argument and influencing. Little touches like how important active listening is, and how visible and impactful you are even when sat still while someone else performs, are lessons that have stayed with me. I took on both main speaker and chair roles, and in doing so explored my own strengths (good structure and focus) and weaknesses (requires a lighter touch and some humour!), as well as how a team melds through having complementary attributes. Of course, working through the development of the key arguments and considering how to effectively influence were key skills. I suppose the 15-year-old me would be surprised at just how much I’ve relied on all these skills throughout my life.
You went on to gain a place on our Secondary School Exchange programme – tell us about some of the highlights.
My SSE year was one long highlight, and reflecting here reminds me of what an amazing year I had.
I was at Moses Brown School, in Providence, Rhode Island. The Brown family also founded the Ivy League Brown University which was across the road, giving the whole area a cool, college atmosphere. Having already done my A levels, I had the pleasure of enjoying the academic side of school with no pressure, and I took courses as varied as evolution, comparative Russian/American literature, development on scientific thought, human rights, art history, and (of course!) US history. After school I was on the swim team (3km training daily!), directed Romeo and Juliet, and sang in the chorus. Trips were frequent, down to New York for art galleries, up to Boston for jazz, locally to watch repertory theatre, and all over New England for swim meets. Along the way, I saw Desmond Tutu speak at Brown University and met Noam Chomsky!
Above all, the friendships I made were very strong. Thirty-two years on, I remain in touch with a good handful of people. All told, I don’t think I could have had a more enriching experience.
How did your year in the US change you?
The year was significant for me in three key ways. The first was that it exposed me to a huge range of new culture and thought. The second is that some of the American ‘can do’ energy and attitude rubbed off on me. The third was to do with how I felt about my role: I was conscious of the ‘ambassadorial’ aspect of the SSE: representing my own culture was in the mix, and I knew that my perspective and contributions were valuable because of where I came from.
Whom do you admire and why?
This is the hardest question because I have always taken, and continue to take, inspiration from many, many people.
Right now, I find myself in awe of the Malalas, the Gretas, the Amanda Gormans of the world: young people with passion, courage, and eloquence. There are many that I come across. They make me feel optimistic about the future.
What’s your guiltiest pleasure?
Currently, the fact that I’m watching the entirety of six series of Schitt’s Creek for a second time when there are so many other great things out there that I should probably be spending my time on!
Tell us something surprising about you.
I’m a good shot!*
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
I think it is that I am very content with my life. I have a life that is ‘good enough’ in all the spheres that matter to me. I subscribe to the ‘big rocks’ theory of making sure that the things that really matter are what you invest your time on. I’m happy to have achieved a good balance across them. My children. My loved ones. My health. My work. My friends. Things that matter.
What’s the most important lesson life has taught you?
The first is to be kind.
The second is that where there’s life, there’s hope. I am an optimist.