Learning to Fly

On her very first day of school at Taft, Sophie Savage ’20 asked Math Teacher and Associate Dean of Students Lindsay Leal to be her advisor. 

“It was on the field hockey field,” says Sophie, “and she had just cut me from her team. But I still knew I wanted her to be my advisor.”

Over the course of the next three and a half years, Ms. Leal served not only as Sophie’s advisor, but as her dorm head, geometry teacher, confidante, and—despite the rocky start—field hockey coach. 

“I’m the kind of person who really values relationships,” Sophie says. “It is important for me to know that there are people close to me who I can turn to. My mom was always that person; that made me wonder if leaving home for boarding school would be right for me. Ms. Leal became that person for me. As a freshman, I literally saw her every day—in my pajamas at night, on the field running, leading a team, in the classroom struggling with geometry. She was a factor for me in each of the most prominent aspects of life at Taft—dorm life, academics, and athletics—and I felt fortunate to have her to guide me through my endeavors in each of those areas.”

Ms. Leal’s own experiences as a boarding school student helped shape her understanding of the importance of student-faculty connections.

“The adult women in my life at boarding school were younger than my mom but older than me,” says Leal. “They were all at different stages in their lives, filling different roles than the other women in my own life, my mother and my sister. They were mentors and friends—women who knew me well and were looking out for me. I still feel very lucky to have had those connections—it really is one of the best parts of boarding school.” 

For Sophie, just knowing that Ms. Leal understands what it means to be a young woman away from home and a student engaging with all that is life at Taft gives her strength and confidence, particularly in the tough times. At the beginning of sophomore year, Sophie says, students often face an unexpected shift in the social dynamic.

“When you come back after freshman year, you’re feeling a little more comfortable in your skin,” says Sophie. “But then there is a change that you didn’t anticipate: new students arrive as sophomores, and friendships and friend groups grow and change as a result. For me, that was difficult. My commitment to the ski team kept me very busy in the fall and winter, and I began questioning how I would be able to maintain friendships that had been so important to me. Ms. Leal reminded me that the entire grade was shifting and developing and changing and adapting. She said that I should just let it flow and not let other people influence how I was experiencing life as a Taft student—to control the things I had control over and let all the other things go. She reminded me that my friends would always be here with me, and that that would never change.”

This year, Sophie found herself repeating that advice to younger students on campus.

“It felt very special to be able to share that same wisdom from Ms. Leal that had made such a difference in my own experience,” says Sophie. 

Ms. Leal recently looked back at all the advisee letters she has written for Sophie; they reflect three and a half years of extraordinary achievement, deep connection, and personal growth. They show Sophie adapting to life at boarding school, mastering social nuances, and rising to all of Taft’s academic challenges.

“Rereading the letters, I could see her growing more confident as she began sorting things out and finding her own place in our community,” says Leal. “And now, she just flies. She is confident and independent. She is ready for whatever is coming, and I think, ‘We did it; together, we did it."