Diversity Leadership Speaker Series welcomes award-winning NCAA Athlete Schuyler Bailar

Diversity Leadership Speaker Series welcomes award-winning NCAA Athlete Schuyler Bailar

The Gunston School’s new Diversity Leadership Speaker Series virtually presents its first guest, Schuyler Bailar, an award-winning NCAA Athlete and inspirational speaker on Thursday, November 19. Students and faculty will join Bailar via Zoom for a presentation and Q&A session.

Schuyler Bailar was one of the nation’s top 20 15-year-old breaststroke swimmers. By 17, his relay team set a national age group record. A 25-time National Championship Qualifier, a two-time All-American, he was recruited by and swam for Harvard University on one of the winningest teams in Harvard’s history. Schuyler is also the first openly transgender athlete to compete in any sport on an NCAA Division I men’s team. Schuyler’s difficult choice – to transition while potentially giving up the prospect of being an NCAA Champion – as a female swimmer – was historic and timely. His story has appeared everywhere from The Washington Post to 60 Minutes and The Ellen Show.

Schuyler is also a celebrated inspirational speaker, having been hosted at places like the CIA, the NCAA, USA Swimming, TEDx, The Boston Museum of Science and over 70 others, including schools and colleges across the country. His story explores the universal challenges of trying to "fit-in" in our media-rich world with integrity and authenticity. He explains his struggles and why he ultimately chose to put many potential accolades at risk to be true to himself. Because he has lived his life from many perspectives – woman, Korean American, mixed-race, gay, trans, “Harvard white guy” – his story resonates with young and old, from all walks of life. 

“The leadership series is inspired by the work that the Student Diversity Leaders do. It is focused on identity and how we can draw strength from understanding who we are,” explains David Miller, director of diversity, equity and inclusion, who worked with the students to map out what topics the series should focus on.

The first session would be in honor of Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR), an annual observance on November 20th that honors the memory of the transgender people whose lives were lost in acts of anti-transgender violence. 

Rion McCluskey ’21 took the lead in planning the first session and reached out to Bailar, whom he and his classmates saw speak at the NAIS Student Diversity Leadership Conference in 2019. McClusky handled communications with Bailar’s manager and formed the agenda for the day, including both the speech in the morning and the lunch with the student leaders in the afternoon. 

"I had been aware of Schuyler Bailar through social media since my freshman year, but seeing him speak at Seattle was what truly cemented my interest in having him come to Gunston," said McCluskey. "Growing up, Schuyler also attended a Maryland independent school, giving him a unique sense of relatability that other speakers may not have had for Gunston students. I also think that Schuyler will be able to appeal to the broad interests of the community. His speaking sessions go beyond just what it means to him to be transgender, and into topics like sports, college, relationships, and mental health." 

McCluskey continued "I hope that the Diversity Leadership series will inspire students to become more involved in Gunston’s DEI [Diversity, Equity and Inclusion] program, whether that is through clubs or on-campus events, or even just conversations with their peers. Gunston truly has an amazing DEI program that I have not encountered anywhere else, and I hope that this speaker series will make that more accessible and interesting to the wider student community."

The next session, scheduled for December, centers around the topics of mental health and neurodiversity with the speaker to be announced soon. The Diversity Leadership Series is the first of many initiatives in Gunston’s new Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Strategic Plan which will be presented next week.