It was August 2014. I was sixteen years old, and I was about to experience a significant change in my life. I found out that I was going to be moving halfway across the country and going to a new school, in a new city, in a new state just before my junior year of high school. Not the ideal situation. I found out I would be going to an all-girls private high school, Harpeth Hall School, where the girls wore plaid skirts, and I didn't know a soul.
A week before school started, I found myself buying my very own green plaid skirts, getting my class schedule and wondering what this school was going to be. I attended a new student orientation, where I appeared to be one of the only girls my age, just solidifying the fact that I was pretty much in this on my own.
Upon entering orientation, I met a woman named Dr. Stephanie Balmer. She had sparkly blue eyes, a warm, inviting smile and was dressed fashionably in a black and white dress. She told me that she was the brand new Head of School at Harpeth Hall and that she was so glad to meet me finally. I specifically remember her saying, "Hey, we're both new here; we can learn all about this place together."
From that day forward, I saw Dr. Balmer as a role model.
I learned that she wanted nothing but the best for every girl at Harpeth Hall — she wanted to see us grow and succeed in all that we did. Her bond with each girl at Harpeth Hall was absolutely incredible. She made it a point to learn each girl in the school's name, and she had lunch with each member of the senior class — she showed me what it looks like to be a strong leader.
She stood as an example of a strong woman, not letting any setback bring her down. She was an energetic speaker, a source of joy and overflowing with compassion. When speaking to her, she made you feel like you were the most important person in the world. She wanted to celebrate even the smallest victories, and she was there for the most difficult losses.
And when I walked across the stage on my graduation day, I will never forget what Dr. Balmer said to me: "I am so proud of all that you have accomplished. What a girl Charleston is gaining." And that proceeded to lead me to tears.
Fast-forward six months, I had just returned home from finishing my first semester of college. I had the opportunity of attending a brunch at my alma mater, and I was, fortunately, able to speak to Dr. Balmer about how my semester had been and how happy I was in Charleston. This was also the case for this past December — but little did I know that this would be my last interaction with one of my greatest role models.
It's crazy how life can throw something at you so quickly.
Just a few days ago, I found out that Dr. Balmer had suddenly become chronically ill, and her days were going to be few. It didn't register in my mind at that point. You can never imagine something terrible happening to someone who you think is so strong. I guess I thought she could live forever.
And when I received the news that she had passed, there was nothing I could do but cry and express my deepest sorrows.
Because she was our fearless leader during my years on Hobbs Road, it is safe to say that I can attribute my fond memories at Harpeth Hall to Dr. Balmer, herself.
I am glad that I was able to cross paths with such a great woman, and to do so so early on in my life. While Dr. Balmer's time on this planet was cut too short, her impact will be lasting on the lives of many.
I wish more than ever that my Harpeth Hall sisters and I could be together during this challenging time, but I know that our love for Dr. Balmer and each other stretches all over this country. We stand in strength together.
Thank you, Dr. Balmer, for being an inspiration, a role model and one of the greatest people I have ever known. I will never forget all of the incredible things that you did for me.