Interview with Havergal College Alum, Charlotte Anderson
- University (major)
University of Toronto (Medicine)
Charlotte Anderson’s journey of entrepreneurship started at Havergal College. She graduated in 2005, and then earned a doctorate in medicine. With a specialty in pediatric concussions, she founded a chain of clinics. She is now a postdoctoral researcher at McMaster University. She says she maintained her connection to Havergal College throughout those years. She says Havergal helped her explore her many interests, and shape who she is today.
Highlights from the interview
Havergal allowed me to set a foundation that I don’t think I was totally aware of until I left the school—and Havergal has always been home.
Havergal College influenced the area of study I chose in university and it influenced what I was looking for in my undergrad experience, as well as the athletic component. At Havergal, I was an athlete. My coaches were inspirational to me and had a lasting impact. But as well, in Grade 12 at Havergal, I had the opportunity of taking a kinesiology class, which at that time was new to the high school curriculum. That, coupled with the support of my coaches and the science teachers at Havergal College, allowed me to pursue science with more specialization on the human body, which definitely, definitely influenced my decision to go into kinesiology in university.
I will also say that Havergal encouraged me to pursue the academic side, absolutely, but also the athletic side that I pursued in university and to figure out how could I do both, and make sure that I was doing both to a level of excellence, and a level that challenged me in that academic component and in the athletic component.
Havergal encouraged me to look at the different facets of university, and the different roles university would play in my life, and that undergrad was Step One of many more to come, and think about how I could keep as many doors open as possible.
My grandmother went to Havergal, my mom went to Havergal, and my sister, who is a year younger, went to Havergal as well. I don’t think my parents were planning to send both my sister and me to Havergal College when we were in Grade 4, but my mom says that I came home one day from my public school and informed her that ‘girls were not supposed to do math and science, that girls were only supposed to do the languages.’ My parents decided then that a single-gender education was the best choice for me.
When I was a student at Havergal, what I appreciated most was having a safe space. I was able to be ‘me’ before I totally knew what ‘me’ was. I had a safe space to try out for the dance group, try a community service event, and try French in Grade 10 and not do well in it. It was a safe space, a safe community. The teachers, the staff, the girls, and the community around Havergal allowed us to figure out who we were when we didn’t entirely know who we were.
I am so grateful to have had all those opportunities. I’m grateful to have been cut from the team in Grade 9. I’m grateful to have been the captain of the soccer team in Grade 12. I’m grateful to have taken Strings and not been the best in the class. I’m grateful to have tried Spanish and Latin and hated it—but to have had the opportunity to try it.
I’m grateful for the peer group at Havergal. I’m grateful for bringing us together as a school, and not just your grade. I also looked up to the older girls when I was in Grade 9, and then when I was in Grade 12, I so valued being a leader for the younger girls. I appreciated the ability to figure out who I was within a space where I never felt judged. I felt that every opportunity was an opportunity to take.
Havergal is very rooted in tradition, and it’s rooted in where it all started in the 1800s. The mission statement put forward by the principal at that time is ‘a place for girls to gain confidence, and to build a foundation to go out and make a difference.’ What I will say about Havergal, in light of what’s going on in our world right now is that Havergal has always stayed very true to that statement.
When I was at the school, I don’t think I entirely understood what that meant to go out and make a difference. Now that I’m on the other side, what is the difference? The difference can be something smaller in your community, something global, something research-wise, something within your own family, something with animals. It can be whatever it is that you define as making a difference. Havergal has always ingrained it in girls to have the confidence and to go out and make the difference that they’re ready to make. Havergal stays true to that.
Competent, intelligent and empathetic is how I would describe Havergal’s personality.
The values that Havergal has instilled in me are honesty and integrity. That constant searching for knowledge, the quest for knowledge, pushing the envelope to find out more. As well, contributing to the community in which you are part of—whatever community that is, big or small—and being an active citizen in that community.
Havergal College is a school rooted in tradition, that has a strong value system, and a strong moral and ethical code. It’s also a place where I had a lot of fun, and I learned a lot. I had the experiences of travelling with friends, exchanges, and community work. Academics and focus are a big part of it, but it’s also a place where you make mistakes, you have fun, and you have a good group of peers, both older and younger.
You have teachers at Havergal that are, oh—The faculty is just so inspirational, but so real.
I think what people don’t know is that, once you graduate from Havergal, you’re not done with Havergal. Whether it’s the faculty, whether it’s the staff, whether it’s the security guards that sit at the front, whether it’s your peers, whether it’s the girls behind you, Havergal is a lifelong community where, if you want to be a part of it for years afterward, you absolutely can. I don’t know if I realized that when I was at the school.
I don’t know if there is a typical Havergal student. Havergal encourages all students to be our own person. Most Havergal students are quite goal-oriented, focused, and driven. I don’t think it’s fair to say there’s a typical student, or a mould that you have to fit to go to Havergal. Havergal allows people or students to be who they are, while encouraging and challenging them to be the best version of themselves.
Every year I reflect on the experiences I had at Havergal College and think about how they have shaped who I am today—through my pursuit for higher education, through my forever connection with sport and rowing, to my personal relationships with my classmates at Havergal, my former teachers at Havergal, and people that I’ve connected with after I graduated through the Havergal community. Havergal College is a place that I am proud to have gone to. I’m very lucky to have gone to Havergal. The people in the Havergal community inspire me to be better every day. The Havergal College family has created opportunities for me as I pursue my professional career.
Being surrounded by incredible students was something I appreciated about Havergal. All my classmates were brilliant and talented, and I’m amazed at what they’re doing now. Oh, my goodness, I’m just so amazed and so proud. In short, if I had to pinpoint a time in my life that was the most influential, and helped to grow me into who I am today, it’s my time at Havergal, hands down.
Today, if you ask me how my perception of the school has changed, I have to give Havergal College credit. The world is changing, with technology, and the school is adapting to prepare these students for a future that none of us really know what it’s going to be like. Havergal is working hard to stay on top of that, and I’ve been very impressed with that.
Havergal College has made a real conscious effort to engage more of the Old Girl community—to inspire, to mentor, and to lead the current students, which I think adds a whole other element to the experience of younger students having real-life people to look up to and say ‘Oh my gosh, they came from Havergal and they did this!’
Yes, I would say potential students should enroll in Havergal! One of the biggest reasons is the support system that Havergal provides, whether a student needs a little extra academic support or emotional support, whatever it may be.
Havergal College gives students the opportunity to be taught by some of the best teachers, in some of the best facilities with very specialized programs—whether it’s the STEM program with science and the technology, or the languages—which allows students to get a leg up before they pursue whatever’s after high school.
Sending your child to Havergal will challenge them, it will push them, it will inspire them, and it will create a foundation that they can always come back to. Whatever it is that that girl wants to pursue, they will have the tools in their toolkit. Now, they will have to use it, they will have to walk through that door, but Havergal will open every possible door for them and allow them to be whoever they want to be. With such a strong foundation, they will have the ability to continue to excel.
I’m in awe of the facilities at Havergal College. I continue to go back, and they’re even more advanced than when I was there. The facilities are amazing, from the sports facilities, to the theater, to the science labs, to the cafeteria and community space. There’s a separate junior school that has all of those things as well, but designated for students in JK to Grade 6. So they have their own space as well. The physical structure of the school and the grounds are at the heart of Toronto, at Avenue Road and Lawrence Avenue, and they are above and beyond anything. Havergal College continues to put time and money into making sure those continue to be state-of-the-art.
I would tell new Havergal College students to take advantage of every opportunity, ask every single question you can, be challenged, be inspired, and to be grateful, to be among classmates, the student body, the faculty, and the community. Take it one day at a time, don’t look too far in the future, and don’t stress too much about getting the marks for university, because it’s all going to work out. Enjoy the time you have to develop the skills and a foundation within the safe space of Havergal College because you’re lucky to be there. My advice for students is to take every day and every opportunity to say ‘yes’ to everything that Havergal College has to offer, and be humble because they’re lucky to be there, and among the best.