Editor’s Note: After a decade of service to SEGL, most recently as Director of our Johannesburg program, Mairéad O’Grady is moving to Chicago to pursue her next personal and professional adventure. Below is the letter she wrote to the SEGL Board of Trustees announcing her (planned) departure.
The program is in good hands: longtime SEGL teacher and administrator Sirianna Santacrose will begin her tenure as Director of SEGL in Johannesburg this summer (more on that in a future Current), and all of our Johannesburg teachers plan to return next year.
Dear SEGL Board of Trustees,
I am writing with bittersweet news: the current semester will be my last as Director of SEGL in Johannesburg. After ten years of the most important work I can imagine, and three with the honor of helming our first international campus, I will return to the U.S. in June to launch the next phase of my life and career. This move, crucially, will allow me to end the three-year long-distance phase of my most meaningful relationship. It will also allow me (after a short break) to pursue graduate studies inspired by my most gratifying professional accomplishment: the successful establishment of the SEGL program in South Africa.
Over the last decade, SEGL has adapted and evolved with the times. As you all know, and as your unwavering support enables, our curriculum reflects the present moment and teaches our students to respond to it. But what you might not be aware of is a grainy, decade-old YouTube video that all SEGL students watch on their first weekend, and that I have been thinking about in new ways in my final months with SEGL: “Leadership Lessons from Dancing Guy.”
During orientation each semester, the students discuss what makes a good leader and what makes a good follower. To close, we show them this 3-minute clip, which begins with a man dancing alone on a grassy hillside at an outdoor concert. At first, the crowd ignores him, and he looks a bit crazy. But after a few moments, a second person joins, and the two of them start to groove. And before long, the whole crowd is on its feet, arms swinging and feet tapping in a collective dance party.
We show this (admittedly silly) video to students to begin a conversation about the critical need not just for leaders, but for the early followers who help to bring a promising leader’s bold vision to life. Without them, the leader is just, as the video’s narrator puts it, a “lone nut.” The first follower legitimizes their idea and grants others the confidence to join in.
What I am perhaps most proud of in my time at SEGL is that I have had the opportunity to be one of those first followers of Noah’s founding vision. Noah’s mentorship, and the deep trust and commitment of you, our Board of Trustees, has also meant that not only have I been able to support Noah’s vision, but I have found ways to make it my own. I was able to start another dance party, on another hillside, with my own set of first followers. And I am confident that with the dedication of these team members–Sirianna Santacrose and Shizuha Hatori, beloved faculty from both DC and Johannesburg, and Mpho Mphahlele and Keith Mundangepfupfu, newer additions who have quickly adopted the SEGL way–the dancing will continue on without me for many years to come.
With deep gratitude,