GOFFSTOWN — More than 250 female student athletes from schools across New Hampshire gathered at Saint Anselm College on Thursday to listen to messages of empowerment and a discussion on the challenges facing women today at a forum titled “Woman-to-Woman: Shooting for Greatness.”

Following opening remarks from Bishop Guertin High School student Aria O’Connell and U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, six female leaders from fields across the Granite State were led in a discussion by former U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte on the topics of building gender equity, fostering future female leaders and working on being successful in life while maintaining mental health.

Much of the event centered around thoughts from Notre Dame women’s basketball coach Muffet McGraw regarding the lack of women in power, and how society can transition from the novelty of women trailblazers into a situation where gender equality becomes a conclusion that isn’t given a second thought.

Throughout the evening, the members of the panel urged the audience to discard preconceived limits on expectations and provided life lessons from the journeys they took to become leaders in their respective fields.

“What I would hone in on for young women is first of all to not be afraid to fail, to have courage,” said Ayotte. “You don’t have to know everything. You can learn along the way.”

The event was organized by the Bishop Guertin girls’ basketball team in conjunction with the New Hampshire Institute of Politics as part of a community project the team does every fall.

Bishop Guertin girls’ basketball coach Brad Craig said that the team had been working on the project since they decided to focus on the topic of women’s empowerment in May.

“I cannot tell you how many hours these young ladies put into this to pull this off,” said Craig. “It was eye opening to me how much went into it regarding the logistics or fundraising or selling tickets. They were there to a person through the thick of it and I couldn’t be more proud of them.”

Along with the adult female leaders, three female student leaders also gave speeches: Goffstown’s Olivia Brannen talked about the importance of mental health following the death of her cousin, Zoe Desmarais; Pinkerton Academy’s Jesse Ames discussed the significance of confidence after she slowly lost her hair; and Bedford’s Emma Rosenbaum challenged the hypocrisy of adults who tell girls they can do anything only to not take them seriously when they try to take the initiative toward solving problems.

Bishop Guertin sophomore and lacrosse team member Abbey Cannon thought the event could have talked more about the issue of domestic violence. However, she enjoyed the evening overall and found the discussion insightful and inspiring.

“I thought the speeches talked about how important it was for women to stand up for themselves, and I thought the questions on the panel were very good,” she said. “It was more interesting than I expected, I really learned a lot about women’s empowerment.”

The event concluded with the presentation of a check by members of the Bishop Guertin girls’ basketball team for $20,000 to Bridges, a support service in Nashua for women who are victims of domestic and sexual abuse.

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