By Grace Lewis ’20 Editor-in-Chief
In an effort to strengthen Mercersburg Academy’s community, the school has given students the opportunity to share their personal stories during school meetings. Birdy McDonnell ’20 is one of three students who have already taken that chance, responding to the challenge that Head of School Katie Titus set earlier this fall. “When Mr. Howes asked us about sharing our stories, I knew I had a lot to say. I’ve had a pretty crazy experience here, and I knew my story had the potential to help people, so I really wanted to be able to do that,” McDonnell said.
McDonnell, who uses the pronouns they/them/theirs, did not have to take time to decide on their topic. In a bold school first, they came out as non-binary, an identification that has shaped their life and continues to do so. “It wasn’t really a choice, it was just kind of like, ‘Oh, that makes sense.’ Like telling a story… that’s my story.” McDonnell discussed the difficulties of gaining acknowledgement and acceptance, not only from peers but even sometimes from loved ones.
They spoke to their audience with a few goals in mind: “I hope it helps open people’s minds and eyes and look out for people even if they don’t necessarily know their full story. And kind of just consider how different things affect different people and just overall take into consideration more factors in people’s lives.”
They reflected on the process of coming to understanding what it means to feel neither male nor female in a world that demands that choice, including their resulting struggles with mental health. Rosina Beritela ’20 said, “It was very brave of them to talk about such personal issues. They are talking about who they are as a person. I couldn’t imagine not having my parents understand who I am. […] I couldn’t even imagine what they’ve been through even though they explained it to us. Their strength is admirable.”
The school wants more students to share their stories in the future. McDonnell said, “I just hope people talk about what they’re passionate about and what drives them to do what they do. I mean, I’m not expecting everyone to do all their coming out stories now. Just hearing […] everyone else’s story is how we all come together to create […] what Mercersburg is. I think it’s a really interesting concept, and I’m really excited to see what else comes out of it.”