Abby Lesnick ’95 Ties Miquon Values to Her Current Success
The list of things that Abby Lesnick remembers and cherishes about her Miquon education does not begin with “playing in the woods,” or “free time.”
Those are there, of course, and she loved many things about attending Miquon. But what truly stands out for her are the values and understanding she gained that helped shape the adult she has become. Shared respect and humanity between students and teachers; the lack of conventional letter grades; and the strong women leaders—all are top-of-mind when Lesnick reminisces about her years at Miquon.
“I remember as a child always understanding that our teachers were real people with real lives, which was a valuable part of our emotional development,” she says. “The teachers at Miquon respected students as people and we grew up understanding that—because they didn’t try to hide their humanity from us—these adults had feelings just like we did.”
The lack of a report card with letter grades meant for Lesnick that all students’ individual talents had equal value; no one’s particular talents or interests were better than anyone else’s.
And in addition to her strong family unit, Lesnick came to regard her Miquon teachers as family, and feels that she was also raised by a group of strong women leaders, including Cynthia Adams, Betty Tilley, Louise Strauss, Anne Brady, Lynn Hughes and Joan Ranere.
“As my teachers, they nurtured me and pushed me to be my best without pressure, and not to achieve some arbitrary external goal, but with loving support that enabled me to recognize my own abilities for myself,” says Lesnick. They all had such unique styles, including ways of teaching, talking, individual clothing choices and they all impacted her.
“They taught me that being a strong woman doesn’t look like any one thing. We knew without a doubt that these pillars of our community were strong, not in spite of being women, but because they were women and that masculinity and strength are not synonymous,” she says.
As the supervisor to younger women today, Lesnick says she is a “fierce proponent” who challenges gender norms in the workplace and one who brings more traditionally feminine qualities into the spaces of business and her own style of leadership.
Lesnick’s family was involved with Miquon over the course of about two decades. Her sister, Alice, graduated from the school in 1973, and around 1980, the family moved to New York City, where she was born in 1983. Lesnick, her parents, and older brother, Caleb, moved back to Philadelphia when she was five, just in time to begin at the Miquon Nursery. Caleb started in 5th grade. Apparently, they caused a bit of a controversy by starting in the middle of the school year, in January of 1988, and she is forever grateful to whomever made that unorthodox accommodation for the family.
As a shy and quiet child, Lesnick, who graduated in 1995, remembers needing additional support from her teachers to speak up in class. She knows she needed extra encouragement when it was her turn to go outside and read the temperature on the glass thermometer or to stand up in the circle and share her construction-paper “all about me” book.
“I have vague memories of these moments as being really scary, but I never felt embarrassed by the extra support I know I needed,” she says.
Other fond earliest memories are from Cynthia Adams’ Kindergarten class: teetering around the koi pond in a Japanese-style kimono and wooden shoes and spinning the “caller” between her hands to summon everyone in from the playground. And the friends! After 30 years, she feels fortunate to continue to call so many of her Miquon classmates friends.
“We have such a deep connection that our bonds can withstand any test of time, even though I don’t see them as often as I would like,” she says. “They truly feel more like family to me at this point.”
After graduating from Miquon, Lesnick attended Germantown Friends School for middle and high school, where she remembers a basketball game in which she was guarding her best friend from Miquon who played for Friends Central. “Needless to say, we were removed from the game because we couldn’t stop talking and laughing,” she says. Her transition through the grades was smooth and seamless, and she then attended New York University where she earned a bachelor’s degree in literature and creative writing in 2005.
After college graduation, Lesnick worked for several years for various nonprofits in New York City with an arts and culture and direct service focus. In 2008, she began working with StoryCorps, a national nonprofit that records interviews between two people who know each other well. These stories are all archived in the Library of Congress — the largest oral history collection of its kind. StoryCorp’s work is greater than the edited, short segments from select interviews that are broadcast weekly on National Public Radio’s Morning Edition, for which it is primarily known.
The organization’s mission is to record stories of everyday people, with the goal of building connections, teaching the value of listening and to remind listeners that everyone’s stories matter.
“I obviously see direct connections between that mission and the ethos of Miquon,” says Lesnick.
She next moved on to Radish Lab, a creative agency that does graphic design and other communications projects for nonprofits. Although she works as its managing director, she relishes the creative aspects of her work, helping organizations figure out how to best express their organizational identity and mission through visual and written communication materials.
Leadership and Impact from the Beginning
Lesnick can easily see many threads connecting her first, tentative days at Miquon to the deliberate leader and mentor she is today. As a new college graduate, she wanted to work in any area that held her interest, so she worked part-time in a veterinarian’s office to feed her love of animals, in a publishing company to be around books, and at an avant-garde theater because of her love of the creative arts.
Over time, she wanted to help make an impact in the world, so she got a job with an educational nonprofit that supported lower-income families, and then moved on to StoryCorps. While there, she managed a team that created projects in partnership with other national nonprofits and generated more than $1 million revenue annually.
“I was really engaged in what I was learning and proud of the work we were doing, recording stories of diverse communities, but what I came to love the most was the internal management responsibilities of being a supervisor and mentor to a team,” she says. And so her focus shifted and narrowed a bit and while she still is passionate about making a contribution in the world, she starts every day by making a direct impact on the people she interacts with the most.
“I am passionate about being a good boss, and I see this impulse as a representation of values that were instilled in me at Miquon,” she says. “I think Miquon’s philosophy and values are just as relevant for adults . . . I’ve always sought to draw out my staff’s individual strengths, interests, and learning styles to best support their professional growth and ability to work as an effective team member.
“And I think anyone who is hiring, training and managing employees in any workplace should remember that every person is a thinker, creator and contributor, and should welcome diversity of ideas, ability and culture.”