Michaela is a renowned ballet soloist at the Dutch National Ballet and co-author of the books Hope in a Ballet Shoe, Ballerina Dreams, and Taking Flight: From War Orphan to Star Ballerina. She joins a long line of esteemed Burke’s International Women's Day guests that have included Vice President Kamala Harris, Mayor London Breed, Audrey Cooper, Editor in Chief of the San Francisco Chronicle, and most recently, the inspiring and esteemed athlete and conservationist Kim Chambers. Burke’s has also honored recipients of our annual Distinguished Alumna Award, including Jean Afterman ‘75, assistant General Manager of the New York Yankees, Vendela Vida '85, author and co-founder of 826 Valencia, and Ebony Beckwith Frelix '91, Salesforce.org EVP and Chief Philanthropy Officer.
Michaela DePrince was born in Sierra Leone and grew up in the United States. Her parents passed away during the country’s decade-long civil war and she was later abandoned at an orphanage by her uncle due to her having vitiligo, a condition that was then considered a curse of the devil that causes patches of skin to lose their color. Michaela’s adoptive parents recognized her talent for ballet and enrolled her in ballet classes and supported her passion for the art. While attending the Rock School for Dance Education in Philadelphia and the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School at the American Ballet Theatre, Michaela worked hard to develop her skills so that she could overcome stereotypes of conventional beauty and racial barriers in the world of ballet. Along with her work in the Dutch National Ballet, she advocates for the normalization of ballet for dancers of color and is an ambassador for the organization War Child, which works to improve the quality of life for children living in conflict areas through psychological and educational support.
In this year’s virtual format, students and guests raised their hands over Zoom to ask questions after they heard Michaela’s story. She touched on everything from her favorite ballets to what she might do if she wasn’t a dancer. She once had her sights set on being an Olympic swimmer and has many future ambitions including opening an arts school in Sierra Leone and increasing her humanitarian efforts. One of eleven children in her adoptive family, she said that having ten siblings was a lot of fun and taught her to share! When asked what she would say in a note to her 14-year old self, she said, “There are always people out there who will be better than you. I would tell her to always keep working hard and improving.”
Following Michaela’s remarks, our International Women’s Day Assembly featured three seventh-grade speeches, a Burke’s tradition. This year’s speakers tackled the concept of feminism throughout women’s history, the life of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and the dangerous expectations of the beauty standard around the world. In this year of virtual assemblies, the students’ creativity, thoughtfulness, and eloquence shone just as brightly over Zoom as when we are gathered in person.
Almost a year after our world was turned upside down by the pandemic, it was a wonderful morning to be together for this very important event. Burke’s is still Burke’s and we continue to hold close to our mission to educate, encourage and empower girls. We believe the future is female and Burke’s is honored to be working to create the female visionaries and leaders of tomorrow.