PROFILES IN LEADERSHIP: Michaela White ’14 and Maya White ’17
As young women committed to serving their country, sisters Michaela White ’14 and Maya White ’17 have excelled on their shared journey to become naval officers. For both, some of their most valuable lessons in leadership began at Ashley Hall.
Bracing against the wind on the deck of the Roseway, Michaela White ’14 gazed steadily toward the horizon. For twelve days, she and fellow students, led by Upper School faculty member Dr. Roscoe Davis, had worked as part of the crew sailing a schooner on a 1500 mile transit from St. Croix. The capstone of Ashley Hall’s Offshore Leadership Program, the demanding open water voyage had challenged them all to push past their limits and tackle difficulties head on. Now, with Charleston slowly rising in the distance, she smiled in triumph: They had arrived.
“I did not know it then, but that experience was pivotal for me in my young life,” said Michaela. “The Offshore Leadership Program influenced my leadership skills because it forced me into scenarios that I had never been in before and that I literally could not get out of, seeing that I was stuck on a ship in the middle of the ocean. It taught me lessons such as perseverance and resilience that I do not think I could have learned in any other environment. I am beyond grateful that I was able to have an experience like that. It was the push I needed to solidify my desire to join the Navy.”
Now an Ensign in the U.S. Navy, Michaela’s path to that momentous Offshore Leadership Program voyage began when she and her sisters moved with their parents, Mike and Alice White, from Texas to Charleston in 2007. The three White girls—Michaela ’14, Madeline ’16, and Maya ’17, all enrolled at Ashley Hall. From the first, it was an environment that fostered self-reliance and tenacity. “I was engaged, challenged, and supported every single day at Ashley Hall,” emphasized Maya, who entered as a third grader and is now a midshipman in her final year at the U.S. Naval Academy. “I carried this momentum through my ten-year tenure at the School. My favorite subjects quickly became math and science, and I was lucky to have the support of my teachers every day. I was hungry for more, and Ashley Hall was the perfect place for me to expand my horizons.”
Like her sister, sixth grader Michaela thrived in the supportive atmosphere. “Ashley Hall gave me the experiences to be confident in the classroom and encouraged me to participate and challenge the ideas set forth in class in order to further my learning and work on my critical thinking,” she affirmed. “Had this confidence in the classroom not been ingrained in my mind from middle school and on, I think my time in college would have been much quieter.”
Both women excelled with a full slate of academics, sports, and extracurricular activities, including Student Council and track. Michaela also undertook volleyball, while Maya focused on golf. “Serving as student body president during my senior year was an extremely formative leadership experience and taught me how to be a liaison to meet the needs of those above and below me,” said Maya. The lessons in balancing multiple responsibilities were also invaluable. “Ashley Hall helped prepare me for the rigors of the Naval Academy because it taught me time management,” Michaela noted.
On her first day of class at the Naval Academy, Maya White ’17 entered a room filled with thirty other plebes, all of whom were male. She had spent the last seven weeks undergoing the intense physical and mental training of Plebe Summer, a stringent induction into the life of a midshipman. Now, the equally demanding academic component of her college experience was about to begin. Without hesitation, she walked to the front row and sat down. Within five minutes, she was raising her hand to answer the professor’s questions and vigorously taking notes. Exuding confidence, she was fully in her element.
“Ashley Hall made the classroom a space where I could thrive, and I haven’t looked back since,” Maya explained. “The biggest advantage I gained from graduating from Ashley Hall is my confidence. I surprise my peers every single day with my lack of hesitation in the classroom, at a conference table, and on summer training.” For both women, a deeply held belief in themselves has built a solid foundation for their ability to lead. During their Naval Academy journey, both have held company-level leadership positions, with Michaela serving her final year on the brigade-level as the Operations Officer for Sea Trials. Maya is currently the Executive Officer for the 17th Company.
“Ashley Hall helped shape me into a female leader because I truly believe that it gave me the confidence to succeed based on the high frequency of interaction and participation in the classroom,” said Michaela. “All of my teachers encouraged participation, which gave me the confidence to voice my opinion or push myself out of my comfort zone to answer a question even if the answer was incorrect. It was this little push that I carried with me through college and into my professional life. I also try to make sure I provide my input while on a project even if I may be the lowest ranking person in the room.”
Now stationed in Norfolk as a Public Affairs Officer at the Navy Public Affairs Support Element East, Michaela applies that same confidence to her work, whether she is helping to plan the 20th commemoration for the attack on the USS Cole (DDG -67) or aiding in VIP tours aboard the USS Gerald E Ford (CVN -78). Once she graduates in May, Maya plans to return to Charleston to attend Nuclear Power School before serving in the Navy’s submarine force. “I am a huge proponent of single-gender education because it granted me the focus, drive, and power to be myself and to work hard,” asserted Maya. “I am able to stay true to myself when making decisions, and I practice authentic leadership every single day.”
“Ashley Hall taught me lessons that shaped who I am as a young woman and molded me into who I am today.” —Michaela White ’14
For both women, one of the most vital aspects of Ashley Hall’s tight-knit community was its engaging faculty members, who exhibited passion for their disciplines and a deep commitment to their students. “By the time I reached Upper School, I was comfortable establishing relationships with my teachers, and Mrs. Allison Bowden and Dr. Claire Christensen were my biggest mentors who supported me unconditionally, both in the classroom and in life,” said Maya. “Both of these women showed me how to love my studies and do what makes me happy!” Now majoring in oceanography, Maya traces her choice of major back to growing up on the water in Charleston and the influence of those same teachers. “The math, science, and marine background I gained at Ashley Hall created my passion for all things science, especially in the ocean!” she enthused. “I challenged myself with my course load at Ashley Hall, and I trained myself to put school before other commitments. The challenging, fast-paced setting at Ashley Hall set me up for major success here in Annapolis.”
Michaela was also inspired by her teachers, both in her choice of academic path and in her broader approach to life. “I loved my International Relations class taught by Mr. Andrea Muti, who was the reason I chose political science as a major at the Naval Academy,” she said. “Senora Mahe Van Dyck was always available to talk, no matter what the topic was, whether I needed extra help with Spanish or had a life issue at hand. She was the reason behind my choosing Spanish as a minor. Dr. Roscoe Davis pushed me the most in the classroom and taught me how to stay on my toes with his popsicle stick style quizzes. Coach Gail Bailey really taught me what it meant to be a hard worker, not only on the track but also with everything in life. As my coach, she truly pushed me to be not only a better athlete but also a better leader.”
“Michaela and I have always shared a special bond, and she has been my role model for as long as I can remember. However, our relationship took on a new meaning when I decided to attend the U.S. Naval Academy. Michaela became more than my big sister and my best friend. Suddenly, she was my mentor, my hero, and my guiding light during the two years we shared at the Academy. Once we are both graduates, we will always be bonded by the brotherhood (or in this case, sisterhood) of the Naval Academy.” —Maya White ’17
Their commitment to military service creates a special connection between the sisters, who were also inspired by their father, a 1983 West Point graduate who served as a U.S. Army officer in Military Intelligence. As the first Ashley Hall graduate to attend the Naval Academy, Michaela is honored to be a representative of her Charleston alma mater and the integral values it instilled within her. “I stay true to what I believe in and constantly push myself to stand up and voice my opinions,” she remarked. Maya, too, believes in being a leader who lives out her values. “It has always been a mission of mine to serve others, and joining the military was the perfect way for me to give back to our country,” she declared. “It is an honor and a privilege to be able to serve in the United States military, and I am humbled to share this experience with two of my own family members.”
With initiative, purpose, and vision, Michaela and Maya are fulfilling their mission as the newest generation of Ashley Hall’s principled leaders.