I became passionate about education access, almost by accident. I was actually trying to become passionate about body image, when education inequality kind of got in the way.
Let me start from the beginning:
When I was 16 years old, I gave a workshop to 8th-grade girls on topics such as media and self-esteem…Anyway, long story short: I wanted to research the topics I was teaching, and so one book led to another, and pretty soon I ended up reading a book called Schoolgirls: Young Women, Self Esteem, and the Confidence Gap.
In this book, the author Peggy Orenstein observes and interviews eighth-grade girls from two totally different communities, to better understand the obstacles young girls go through. One of the schools sounded just like mine – a majority of the girls were white, and many of the girls were experiencing eating disorders and self-doubt. Yet, the other school opened my eyes to a totally different kind of female experience. I literally could not BELIEVE what these girls were going through – I never, ever, EVER had to worry about whether or not I was going to make it to high school – hell, I WAS GOING TO COLLEGE AND THAT WAS A GIVEN!
98% of us, from my hometown of Hopkinton MA, graduate high school. So, when I say that going to college in my hometown wasn’t even a question, I mean…like, the majority of us did not even QUESTION the possibility that we wouldn’t. It was just the next step in our lives, that we had spent the past 12+ years preparing for.
This is because the kind of education I had was an immense privilege. And that’s an understatement; Hopkinton High School ranks as the third best school in Massachusetts.
I now want you to compare the above statistic to this one: In 2010, 61 MILLION primary school-aged children were not enrolled in school (UNESCO).
Our teachers always told us that we were ‘so lucky’, yet I think we brushed it off and thought to ourselves ‘I know, we’ve heard it before’ without ever really knowing…
At least, I didn’t know. I was so blinded by my privilege and ignorance, that I genuinely did not realize that school systems across the United States worked differently than mine did. I kind of just naively assumed that the rest of the world was what I was being exposed to.
So anyway, after reading the book Schoolgirls, I was stunned and totally bothered by what I had learned. I was bothered ESPECIALLY because this was the first time I seriously started thinking about race, and WHO has great education access, and who does not. IN MY OWN COUNTRY!!!! A PLACE I KNOW AND LOVE!!! I couldn’t believe the inequality!!!
Despite this irritation, life went on. I co-founded an organization called MOVE and directed workshops and summer programs for middle and high school-aged girls on issues that were affecting us. I wrote two books. I gave speeches. I grew up and I learned a lot.
At the same time, I was becoming more aware of the education crisis that this world is facing… I learned that 53% of the world’s out-of-school children are girls and TWO/THIRDS OF THE ILLITERATE PEOPLE IN THE WORLD ARE WOMEN!!!
Yet, I still felt unsure of what to do or where or how to start, and I also didn’t want to go into communities and inappropriately impose my values.
This is where David, the founder of Pen in a Box, came in…Last summer, God brought us together when I spoke on a panel at Yale. David was attending the panel. We became Facebook friends in August of 2016 and then when I was going through my identity crisis with MOVE/not knowing the future, I reached out to him and asked what I could do to support him. To my total surprise, he offered me the Vice President position, and after a great deal of deliberation, I took it.
And here we are today. I could not be more psyched about this chapter of my life because I know firsthand HOW powerful education can be. I mean, I owe SO much of my successes to my unbelievable educators who believed in me. SO much.
I really believe that education is the solution that this world needs…..Education is transformative, it is healing, and it is empowering. And an educated population globally, is the future.
I want to help make that future happen. I have big ideas and want large-scale education reform, both globally and within the United States. And Pen in a Box is where I’ll begin.
My name is Ashley Olafsen, and I am ready to be a part of this team. I have spent the past five years of my life preparing for this role, and I am riled up and ready to go. So, let’s go!