HAMILTON TOWNSHIP — The William Davies Middle School held its 14th annual Ladies Tea in honor of Women’s History Month on Friday March 22. The morning events include an elegant brunch, a table etiquette lesson and an opportunity for the students to meet with each of the invited women.
The event was dedicated to Davies science teacher Debbie Conrad who began her career at the school in 2003 and is retiring this June.
The Michael Duberson Memorial Library was transformed into a charming tea social for sixty young ladies in the sixth, seventh and eighth grades to network with more than two dozen successful professional women with diverse backgrounds.
The theme of this year’s program was, “She needed a hero, so that’s what she became.” The guest speaker for the event, Shakema Grace, provided an inspirational first-hand account of what that means. “My mom was 16 when I was born in Camden,” she said. “She went on to overcome many challenges and become very successful. I watched her become her own hero.”
Grace had her own challenges. “I started out very awkward and was bullied,” she said. “I was called “big forehead” by my classmates and none of my friends had my back.”
She also had to deal with an emotionally abusive stepfather. “I was carrying the world on my shoulders,” she said. “I had to prove to myself that I was beautiful.”
Grace achieved that goal by graduating with high honors from Wilmington University with a degree in Journalism before moving to California to embark on a career as a model and actress. She eventually retired as a senior executive from a Fortune 500 bank and now runs three successful businesses.
Grace also founded The Butterfly Baby Corporation, a non-profit organization dedicated to sharing her passion for writing and how it helped her overcome years of low self-esteem and bullying.
That is the message she shared with the students. “It is important to be each other’s ally and support system,” she said. “Be an advocate and help and support your fellow students. We are all sisters. Uplift each other.”
“Continue your education to achieve your dreams. Work hard so that you too can become your own hero.”
Former district teacher and long-time Board of Education member Barbara Kupp was one of the women invited to mentor the young ladies. “I just love this event,” she said. “The Ladies Tea Committee consists of an energetic group of educators who recognize professional women who can inspire our young ladies to excel in their future career goals. It so rewarding to spend time with these young adults to have conversations about their choices in life. We actually talked the whole time, no phones!”
“I was pleased they dedicated this year's Ladies' Tea to Debbie Conrad who is retiring this June. Debbie is a woman who dedicates her time effortlessly to the Davies community, chaperoning, volunteering at all musical and drama events, co-advisor of the Environmental Club, maintaining the raised bed vegetable garden and the pond at the entrance of the school. She was an integral component in helping Davies earn their designation of a National Green Ribbon School.”
“The keynote speaker, Ms. Shameka Grace, had a message in which we can all identify. Our life is a journey, developing, changing paths and setting new goals to become successful. Hopefully, the young ladies became empowered to find their meaningful journey through developing confidence in themselves, strength to pursue their dreams and developing inspirational leadership in achieving their goals. Surround yourself with positive people who support your dreams.”
“I am so pleased our female educators offer this hope to our young women. The young ladies come from all walks of life, so a new experience is a wonderful thing.”
Dr. Samantha Welsh, a graduate of the school and currently employed as an outpatient mental health therapist, also participated.
“The Ladies' Tea was a great event for the young ladies to inspire them to pursue a career,” she said. “Not only did I learn about proper etiquette, I had the opportunity to meet an amazing group of young ladies and hear about the things that they were passionate about.
“I felt that the event did a great job at empowering our future female generation to reach for the stars and follow their passions. Since more than half of today's workforce consists of women, it is crucial for those women to encourage, inspire, and mentor our future generation.”
Eighth-grade student Jayla Little was one of the event invitees. “We learned a lot of things at the Ladies Tea for example: how to set up a table, where to set your cup and your utensils, and how to sit when you are at a table”, Jayla said. “The ladies that were there were inspiring. They had their own story on how they got their jobs and what their jobs do. Shameka Grace was a model, actress, author and more and she was a great person to meet. Ladies Tea was an awesome experience that I hope will never end for others.”
Sponsors of the Fourteenth Annual Ladies’ Tea included Harrah’s of Atlantic City with linens and table settings, Hamilton Township Education Association, Green Garden Teas, Davies Dragon Pride Committee, Davies Book Store, Floral Simplicity, and WAWA Community Cares.