With the help of their Bigs, Littles recently conquered “the biggest fear most people have,” according to U.Va. Drama Associate Professor Kate Burke: Speaking in public.

On Dec. 6, the Young Women Leaders Program gathered in the afternoon for its annual Fall Finale at Newcomb Hall that kicked off with lunch and a special motivational talk from Burke for the Bigs and Littles, prior to performing choreographed and rehearsed musical presentations to families and peers.

Bigs and Littles practiced their stance, facial expression, enunciation and projection of their voices with Burke in engaging and active ways. Using one of the most famous speeches of all time, President Abraham Lincoln’s “Emancipation Proclamation,” Burke led students in synchronized stepping and speaking to learn how to put more impact into what they are saying.

At the same time, YWLP Director Edith “Winx” Lawrence conducted a workshop with the parents of Littles that addressed the mission of the program, information on adolescent development and tips on how to engage their middle-school age children. YWLP Interns helped to entertain the younger siblings of Littles with crafts in an adjacent room.

At the end of these simultaneous sessions, everyone reconvened in the Ballroom in anticipation of the performances. The stage was set with a projector continuously running photos and video from the past semester of YWLP events and meetings, setting the mood to reminisce and celebrate.

The event was a rare moment in which there was a culmination of the program and research staff that included graduate and undergraduate students as well as employees; alongside the YWLP Facilitators, Bigs, Littles and Littles’ families.

Before the first performance, Lawrence made a few welcoming remarks by introducing the program and research staff, noting newly hired YWLP Program Operations Director Jaronda Miller. Then, the performances were split into two rounds: 7th grade groups at Buford, Burley, Jouett and Sutherland first; with 8th grade groups following them.

Each energetic performance had a musical component that oftentimes reworded or parodied a pop song such as Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off” (with the chorus switched to “Burley 8”), Pharrell Williams’ “Happy” (with the audience clapping in unison as the song asks them to do) and the classic “YMCA” (with the chorus switching to “YWLP”).

The creative and clever song lyrics emphasized key leadership traits they learned this semester and demonstrated the confidence the Littles developed through YWLP, as well as celebrated the sisterhood they had created with their Bigs. The motto of “competence, connection and autonomy” was present throughout the event.

As a part of the closing remarks, there was a parent raffle to show appreciation for their support, which included activities that parents could do with their daughters like movie tickets and mani-pedi gift certificates for the nail salon.

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A special thanks to the supporters of the Young Women Leaders Program:

Story and photo by Agnes Filipowski