Every year, Nueva student-athletes and their families gather together during the last week of school to celebrate the teams and successes of the year. The event also features an alumni speaker, who reflects on their Nueva athletics experience, and a keynote speaker, who talks about the role of athletics in shaping young people.
For this year’s virtual athletics celebration, Athletics Director Chris Wade and the entire Athletics Department welcomed alumna Audrey Chin '19, a member of the Harvard Women’s Swimming and Diving (HWSD) Team, and keynote speaker Schuyler Bailar, former Harvard swimmer and transgender activist.
Schuyler was the first openly transgender athlete to compete in an NCAA Division I men's sport (on the Harvard men’s swim team). His speech focused on the universal challenges of trying to fit-in with integrity, authenticity, bravery, and resilience.
Before beginning his keynote, Schuyler began by recognizing the current moment we’re in as a country.
“I would be completely remiss without noting the prevalence and meaning of the Black Lives Matter movement and the impact the movement has had on my life,” he said. “There’s no queer, transgender liberation without black liberation.”
Following the introduction, Schuyler shared his story with the audience. He shared photos and stories from his childhood, anecdotes about learning to swim and being on swim teams, and his experiences in and after high school that led him to the realization that he is transgender. He shared the conversation he had with the Harvard women’s swim coach, Stephanie Morawski, when he told her he is transgender.
He said, “When I called my coach, I thought to myself, ‘If I tell her in this moment that I’m transgender, there’s a very real likelihood that I lose her, and not only her, maybe I lose the team, maybe I lose Harvard. Will I lose swimming altogether? I could lose a lot right now.’ And then I thought, ‘You know, I’ve spent all of this time trying to be honest with myself. I think I actually owe it to myself to be honest with my coach.’ So I told her, ‘Steph, I’m transgender. I don’t know what that means, but all I know is I want to swim.’”
Schuyler continued, “She paused, and said slowly, ‘Schuyler, I don’t know a whole lot about this. But what I do know is that this team loves you, and that I recruited you for a reason. So if you want to swim you have a spot on this team. We’ll figure it out.’ And that was amazing that I wasn’t going to lose my spot on the team, and my sport, while I continued to figure out what my identity meant to me.”
Schuyler’s story resonated with students, coaches, and parents, and he took many questions following the conclusion of his presentation. One parent asked, “Were your parents accepting of your trans identity and how did they support you?”
Schuyler replied, “My parents always lead with love, and have never made me feel unloved or made me doubt who I am. But they definitely struggled with this initially. I always say that’s OK. I’m not asking everyone to understand everything. But it’s not about understanding, it’s about walking with love. The best analogy I can give is that I don’t understand multivariable calculus. Never have, and I have no desire to. It doesn’t make multivariable calculus any less true or the theorems any less proved or the people who study them any less valid. It just means I don’t get it. It’s the same kind of idea with transness: You don’t have to understand someone to walk with them.”
You don’t have to understand someone to walk with them.
"I think what was so great about Schuyler is that he conveyed a really complex journey in an accessible and engaging way," said sophomore Adrienne P. "He was honest, funny, and compassionate, and he was able to explain how he came to understand and accept himself, which is something I think everyone at Nueva is trying to do. I think Schuyler embodied the spirit of Nueva to use our own experiences to educate and empathize with others in hopes of creating a better world."
Prior to Schuyler’s speech, Nueva alumna Audrey Chin ’19 talked about her experiences with Nueva athletics and connected them to her time on the Harvard swim team.
“I was so excited to welcome Audrey back for this event because she embodies how we hope all our student-athletes grow through athletics and through our Nueva program,” Chris said.
“I did not know whether I wanted to pursue college athletics,” Audrey said. “But, if my years of design thinking have taught me anything, it’s that good decisions are not made blindly. You have to get your hands dirty, to deep dive and prototype, to be willing to fail, and to be open to new and surprising results. You can probably guess what happened next. By the time October 1 rolled around, I knew that HWSD was for me.”
Upper School Division Head Stephen Dunn shared a similar sentiment about how Nueva athletics shapes our graduates.
“I have had conversations with a lot of people talking about athletics and the role of sports in schools,” he said. “When we talk about big transferable skills and, even if we boil those down into buzzwords and 21st century skills, so many of those skills are developed and cultivated in athletics competitions and on the field: cooperation, collaboration, communication, risk-taking, and learning success and failure. These are the big umbrella skills we want all our students to have when they move on from Nueva and into the job market.”
After the event, Chris reflected, “Those characteristics that Schuyler spoke about—the bravery, the risk-taking—are ones that we intertwine into the mission of Nueva athletics, and hearing Schuyler talk about them was really powerful. His story is basically a hero’s journey, like we talk about in the Lower School. Whether you describe it specifically as heroic or not, it’s unique and impactful. Hopefully people connected with what he was saying.”