Alumni Country Day Fund Chair reflects on her experience at Country Day and why she gives back.
Lee Norelli Pedersen ’04 has an infectious energy, passion for Charlotte Country Day School, and drive to make a difference. When her close friend and Country Day classmate Caroline McGuire Winslett’s ’04 son was diagnosed with a terminal illness in the spring, Lee rallied their group of friends together to support the family and honor them with gifts during our first annual Bucs Together Day.
When Lee was asked to consider chairing this year’s alumni efforts for the Country Day Fund, she had this to say, “Even alums who are not in Charlotte, and those who are in Charlotte but not sending their children to Country Day, are watching and paying attention to what the school is doing right now. I think it’s a great time to get involved at Country Day because I am proud of our school.”
Below, Lee reflects on five questions about Country Day, COVID-19, and the current national conversation around diversity, equity, and inclusion. We are so excited to work with her and get to know Lee even better in the coming year!
1. Who were the teachers that had the biggest influence on you at Country Day?
Though I was not a Spanish prodigy or a basketball star, “Coach Doc” aka Michael Dougherty was my upper school advisor and my biggest cheerleader. His steadfast faith in me throughout the ups and downs of the upper school gave me the confidence I needed to succeed and overcome challenges. He provided a judgment-free space for me, and no topic was off the table. It was the first time I felt unconditional support and advocacy from an adult other than my parents, even when I maybe did not deserve it. Coach Doc influenced me to extend the same fierce loyalty and straight talk to my husband, friends, and colleagues, and it has paid dividends. Every year, my gift to the Country Day Fund is in honor of him.
2. How have you remained connected with Country Day since graduation?
My Country Day girlfriends remain one of my life’s greatest blessings. Even though we are scattered all over the country, we still chat literally every single day. Many of us are mothers of young children and help each other solve problems. I seek their advice on everything - parenting, my career, business referrals, etc. I have yet to stump my Country Day community with an issue they couldn’t help me solve. I truly don’t know what I would do without them.
3. How did Country Day help you shape and pursue your goals? Career journey?
I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Country Day for where I am today in my career. As an Executive in Human Resources at Bank of America, I attribute my accelerated career success to my ability to distinguish myself amongst my peers in two key areas – I can craft a compelling argument and I am a skilled communicator. Though I continued to refine these skills in college and law school, Country Day prepared me with an iron-clad foundation in writing with a purpose. As alumni, we probably all share similar memories of late nights writing history term papers, only to have them returned “bleeding” with tough love from Mr. Kelly, Mr. Plyler, or Mr. Anderson, but some of the most valuable lessons I’ve ever learned were from deep within those red-lines.
4. Share a sentence on your Covid-19 experience. Has it made you rethink your career goals or what is important to you?
COVID–19 has made me lean into the power of positivity. I had the bizarre experience of returning to work from maternity leave in May in the midst of a global pandemic. Instead of reclaiming my high heels and heading to my office downtown, I set up shop in my bedroom with my three-year-old and infant next to me, terrified and eager to find my sweet spot at work. I learned quickly that what my team needed most from me was a positive influence at a time when I felt anything but cheery. So, I started to fake it. I looked everywhere for silver linings to boost my credibility. After a few weeks, my mindset started to shift. Not only was I genuinely happier, but I found that my positivity was contagious. Other people were happier, too.
5. Tell us what you think about the current conversations happening in our country and within our community around equity and inclusion.
Recently, I have had a lot of difficult conversations about race through my company and with my friends. Through these conversations, I’ve learned a few fundamental things: 1– I haven’t been doing nearly enough listening; 2 – it’s never too early to teach our children about equality and inclusion; 3 – it’s never too late to change your perspective; and 4 – the best way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time. Issues like this can feel so overwhelming that we don’t know what to do, so we do nothing. But what if we all did one small thing? For me, I’ve dusted off my “Big Sister” skills from my involvement with Big Brothers Big Sisters in upper school, and I recently applied to resume my involvement as a Big Sister. Country Day has a pivotal role to play as it educates the next generation of leaders in our society to be empathetic, kind, human beings who value equality and inclusion and give back to our community. I’m honored to play a small part in ensuring the continued vitality of Country Day through my involvement with the Country Day Fund.