Darlington School: Private Boarding School in Georgia McLaughlin named finalist for Exchange Club's A.C.E. Award
Darlington School: Private Boarding School in Rome, GA
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McLaughlin named finalist for Exchange Club’s A.C.E. Award

January 19, 2024 | 814 views

Senior Isla McLaughlin was named a finalist for the Exchange Club's A.C.E. (Accepting the Challenge of Excellence) Award, which goes to a senior student in the Rome area that has overcome adversity and chosen to live a life of excellence. She was one of six finalists from Rome and Floyd County. All six finalists spoke at the meeting, and one was recognized as the award-winner.

A boarding student from the Cayman Islands who has been enrolled at Darlington since ninth grade, McLaughlin serves as head dorm prefect of Regester House, vice president of the Student Council and co-president of the Peer Tutoring Committee. She has been actively involved in athletics, playing with the Darlington Soccer Academy, Golf Academy and the softball team. McLaughlin has competed as a member of the Cayman Islands senior women's national team for the past four years. She is currently a member of the Senior Ventures program, working on a project to provide exercise classes for students and faculty. 

"We nominated Isla to be Darlington's representative for the A.C.E. Award because of her consistent desire to better herself and not let the traumas of her past be an excuse for not meeting her potential," said Chris Allen, Upper School counselor. "Isla has shown an amazing amount of growth and maturity during her years at Darlington. We could not be more proud of her."

Read the full text of her speech below: 

My dad was my world, and then suddenly he wasn't. I was 7 when my dad died, and it was my first time facing loss. Mentally, I felt pressure to succumb to my sorrow and never view my world as whole again. But if there is anything you should know about me, it’s that I never go down without a fight. 

There is a common expression when facing adversity, ‘’You can either sink, swim, or be the captain.’’

When I think about this, I imagine sinking is succumbing to sorrow, swimming is avoiding the issue by suppressing painful thoughts or allowing grief to dictate your decisions, and becoming the captain is slowly taking back control of the life you want to lead. Becoming a captain is never easy, in fact, I think it's the hardest one to do. Being a captain is about taking charge of all areas of your ship, even those that are less desirable to manage. For me, one of the hardest things I had to learn was to never be ashamed of what I was going through and learn how to talk about it with others. 

In becoming a captain, I slowly guided my ship back on course while also never forgetting the process of putting it back together. I am not only proud of the way I chose to deal with my father's death, but also how that experience allows me to overcome adversity today.

At 9 years old, I made the Cayman Islands Little League baseball team. My initial joy of making the team was quickly squashed when the President of the Cayman Islands Baseball Federation pulled me aside to tell me that I couldn't travel internationally with the team because I was a girl. I went from ecstatic to heartbroken, but I was nowhere near ready to give up something I had worked so hard to achieve. During school the next day, I asked my classmates and teachers to sign a petition to let me play. After collecting signatures throughout the school, I then reached out to female leaders in my community to ask for their support. Now, with hundreds of signatures, female sponsors, and coaches who had my back, the federation overturned their initial ruling, and I was allowed to travel with the team. Without my persistence and determination, female baseball players would not be allowed to compete internationally in the Cayman Islands.

When I was 9, I stood up for gender equality in sports, and now at 17, I plan to continue to fight for a world that provides equal opportunities to both male and female athletes. Where young girls and boys look up to both male and female players and where female athletes are seen as strong and capable and are celebrated globally for their achievements.