‘Lean In’ Through the Lens of a High School Grad

Lean In

By Vanessa Salomon (far left in above photo), KIPP LA Prep alumna, recent graduate of Environmental Science and Technology High School.

As the author of Lean in: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead and founder of LeanIn.org, Sheryl Sandberg has been traveling the country, encouraging and supporting women to “lean in” to their ambitions. Part of Ms. Sandberg’s effort has been arranging meetings with KIPP alums from schools across the nation from New York to Los Angeles to Boston to share insights and advice with several of KIPP’s future female leaders. 

When Marisa, my KIPP Through College (KTC) advisor, invited me to the roundtable with Sheryl Sandberg, she and I were at a one-on-one college application meeting, and at first I was hesitant. Marisa wanted us to read Sheryl’s book, Lean In, in advance. I was in the middle of college application season and really busy but I soon realized it was a great opportunity and made the time to read the book. Ultimately, I’m grateful that I attended the event, because it gave me direction on decisions I will make about my future.

On our way to the event in Beverly Hills, the other KIPP LA alumni and I got the feeling that it was going to be intimidating. But after entering the space, we sat down in a circle – like a Socratic seminar – and it felt more comfortable. Sheryl brought out some cookies, and encouraged us to eat some – I didn’t, because I didn’t want my mouth to get dry. She told us that she expected to hear from everyone at least once throughout the conversation. Sure enough, every KIPP LA alum talked by the end of the night.

Our conversation with Sheryl covered a lot of different topics revolving around our interpretation of her book and more. Sheryl encouraged us to stand up for ourselves, because not everyone will want to see us at the top. She also emphasized that success is correlated with mentorship and seeking support from others. This piece of advice was easy to follow, because KIPP has provided me with multiple mentors. Marisa, one of my KIPP mentors, has helped me with numerous things – from college applications to questions about relationships.

Sometimes it’s good to take risks, and not simply do what society expects of you. At the event, one of the other KIPP LA students talked about how she took a risk by applying to a very prestigious college. Sheryl congratulated her risk-taking and encouraged us to have high expectations for ourselves. Coming from a challenging inner-city neighborhood, it feels like society expects students like me to join a gang or drop out rather than make education a priority. Being surrounded by others who are less motivated is difficult, but attending KIPP planted the seed that if I work hard, lean in, and make opportunities come to me, I can make a better life for myself and my family.

Looking at college next year, I’m nervous about being undeclared. Sheryl helped me to realize you don’t have to have a set future; everything should be a learning experience. Regardless of what major I choose, I plan put myself out there, share my opinions, and make sure my voice is heard.

Through my experience with Sheryl, I learned to “lean in” and take initiative in everyday situations. At the end of the event, while she was signing books, I asked Sheryl if I could “lean in” and help out at her office – filing, doing paperwork, whatever. She smiled, said she would look into it, and asked me for my contact information. Another member of Sheryl’s team gave me her card and told me she saw a lot of initiative in me. Next year I’ll be in the Bay Area, at Mills College in Oakland, and at the very least, I plan to contact her for advice (…and maybe an internship).


As our alumni make their college selections, and prepare to embark on the college application process, we are thankful to Ms. Sandberg for encouraging them to “lean in” and embrace their promise. To learn more about our KIPP Through College programs, click here >