Connection Through Vulnerability

Interview with Susannah Wellford

Ksenia Medvedeva

Today we had the privilege to interview Susannah Wellford, the founder and CEO of Running Start, a nonprofit organization that works to encourage women to pursue a career in politics.

Susannah Wellford

Though our interview with Susannah Wellford had a little bit of a rocky start due to our preparation time being cut short, it was smooth sailing from the first question onward. I think I speak for the whole group when I say that she was incredibly respectful towards each one of us. It was small things, such as saying hello to us individually before we would ask our questions and really listening to what we were trying to ask, that made this interview incredibly personal and memorable. As someone who has participated in quite a few interviews, I’ve never really felt this personal connection towards our interviewee so quickly. Her willingness to be open, honest, and humble was an integral part of making this an interview that I took a lot away from and can apply to my own life.

Susannah Wellford’s words had a profound impact on me, specifically how I view myself and the actions I take. One of the questions we asked her had to do with the pressures she feels to act and look a certain way due to being a woman with a high-profile position. Her response was incredibly heartfelt and honest. She spoke to the fact that knowing she wasn’t alone in sometimes feeling that she wasn’t good enough or deserving enough for the opportunities that came her way was something that kept her motivated and kept her working. As a senior in high school and as a person who is living through a pandemic, these words meant a lot to me. Being at home has left a lot of room for me to reflect on who I am as a person: the good sides and the bad. I’ve found that the judgements I make about myself often stop me from pursuing the things I want to achieve. I’ve discovered all these flaws about me that I feel pressure to fix by the time I go to college. Susannah Wellford’s response helped me realize that I don’t have to change or “fix” anything about myself. It’s not an issue that I have, per se, rather it is an issue that we all carry with us, and thus I believe we should solve it together. We do this through programs such as Running Start and through raising kids of all ages, genders, races, and backgrounds to believe that they can achieve anything they want. I walked away from today’s interview excited to start my journey in college, and I’m grateful that Susannah had so much to share with us. It gives me hope for my future, as well as for the future of the generations who will come after me.

Savannah Cambell

Today, we had the experience of interviewing Susannah Wellford. I was very excited about this interview after learning about her. I was given the opportunity to research about her and come up with questions for the interview. I really wanted to think hard because I didn’t want to ask a question that had already been answered in previous interviews and I wanted to ask a question that was personal to me.

Susannah Wellford was a very welcoming, and relatable person. She looks at situations that some might say are bad and turns them into something positive. She sees hope in young leaders, and believes that someday the United States will be run by women. I was blown away by how she reaches out to everyone in the room.  I think the reason she has so much success is that she is easy to talk to, and she fully wants to understand you. She made it clear to me that she is struggling with the same things I am. When you get older your struggles don’t just go away, but you will have more solutions. I am grateful that I got the opportunity to meet and speak with Susannah Wellford, and I am definitely not going to forget it.

Haley Kerr

Having a quick turnaround from one interview to another this morning, I was worried that I would have a hard time focusing on our second interview. However, as soon as Susannah Wellford began talking, I knew that this interview was going to be a fun and inspiring one. Right from the beginning, Wellford joined the call with a big smile on her face and a very nice positive energy. When she began talking to our teacher Ward, she was friendly, which was expected since they have known each other for a long time. But, the real shock to me was when she started speaking to us, the students, and had that same friendly interaction with us. I got to ask the first question of the interview, and when I introduced myself, she immediately replied with a, “Hi Haley!” and continued to refer to all the students after me by their names as well. This brought a very personal feeling into the entire interview, which created the space for the openness that she would later reveal.

Aside from Susannah Wellford’s friendly attitude towards us, her openness with kids that she had just met was the other thing that struck me in the interview. When asked a question about how she navigates pressure to exceed expectations and feelings about herself worth, she told us about how she still wonders if she can do certain things. She said that she spent a lot of her life worrying that she wasn’t right or didn’t know enough. She explained that knowing everybody has insecurities can be extremely liberating and puts our own internal barriers and self-confidence struggles in perspective. Hearing this was liberating, because sometimes when I see people on TV or in leadership positions, it’s hard to imagine that they are battling the same internal struggles that a lot of us are. Talking about this topic made the interview relatable and contributed to the friendly feeling that she had already instilled.

One specific thing that Susannah said about the topic of insecurity really stood out to me. She told us to try to be very kind to ourselves and have another voice to shut down the one that says you’re not good enough. I really appreciated this outlook because in the past I have heard people say to try to get rid of the voice in your head that tells you you’re not good enough. This is extremely difficult and makes it seem like we are somehow “wrong” for having that voice. However, the way that Wellford said it put a positive spin on it and told me that it is OK to have that voice in our head, because everybody does.  However, we should also try to have another one to combat that voice and tell us that we can do anything and that we are good enough. Susannah Wellford told us that it is OK to feel like that, but not to let it stop us.

This is the main message that I took away from the interview and plan to integrate into the new chapter of my life in college, surrounded by new people and new opportunities.

Octavio Moreno

During the interview with Susannah Wellford, she talked with us about how one to one connection can be the most powerful thing in creating deeper and higher quality of thinking, as well as expanding your views in a positive way. I often notice that people seem to view leadership as something that dominates, and dictates to others who are assumed to not be capable of their own direction, and purpose. However, Susannah Wellford seems to reinvent this conventional model of leadership, through pushing people into deeper and broader levels of thinking on a quantitative and qualitative level. She brings to light the realities of what many women experience as they go through the process of self-discovery and self-realization.

Octavio asks a question on Zoom

From this experience, I have learned that we hold people to standards that sometimes we don’t even notice. Her way of looking at the complex issues that women face, is not watered down by complex terms and explanations. Susannah Wellford used real life examples and the realities that she and other women face as they go through daily life to broaden our horizons.

Susannah Wellford has also managed to grow Running Start from nothing, into a diverse, and driven model that aims for positive growth. This is because the leadership of the organization is not afraid to set high expectations for itself and admit when things can be done better.

Susannah Wellford struck me as a strong leader who pushes young individuals forward with the message that they are just as capable and needed as every other person out there. In life, and in the future, we need to recognize leaders like Ms. Wellford because they are some of the most effective and powerful leaders out there.

Sarah Vince

Before our meeting with Susannah Wellford, I had only ever participated in four interviews with Mount Madonna School, and two of those interviews were in the last two days. Of those four interviews, I had only spoken in two of them and I was extremely nervous to speak directly to someone of such prestige, in front of thirty. In preparation, I watched the 2016 Mount Madonna School interview with Susannah Wellford, in which my brother participated. Watching her interactions with other people our age lessened my nerves. 

My anxiety before the interview skyrocketed, however, when we were all almost late because our previous interview ran over a bit. Nevertheless, we joined the interview in the nick of time and were greeted with Susannah Wellford’s welcoming expression. It was then that most of my anxiety ceased and was replaced with a determination to talk to her and live up to her expectations of us and our questions. 

What amazed me the most about Susannah Wellford was the way she responded to us, teenagers, with humility and respect that I’m not used to receiving from adults, especially those of whom I have only just met. By just putting in the effort to greet all of us, remember our names, and think so deeply and personally about our questions, she garnered our respect as an amazing human. She was so honest with us about her own insecurities that several of us, myself included, cried and got emotional near the end of the interview. Overall, Susannah Wellford is an amazing person and influencer.  She has the ability to connect with people on a level that not everyone can, especially thousands of miles away, over a computer. I am grateful for this experience and I hope that we will have the opportunity to talk with her more in the future.