Alumni Spotlight: Catherine Shao (1996)

By Norma Richman

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes,  but in having new eyes.”— Marcel Proust

My Brief Bio—

 I’m currently working as a producer at a documentary film company, completing my dissertation in education, designing a youth leadership program, and being Mom to spirited seven-year-old twins. I recently moved to Taipei, Taiwan, after living in Hong Kong for 11 years. I went to college at The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania (marketing), grad school at Columbia University (film), and am finishing a second Masters at The University of Hong Kong, specializing in gifted education and talent development.

After college I started working in brand management at Nestlé USA. I left that position to work in the film industry for 10 years, including working as an assistant to director Ang Lee on Brokeback Mountain, among other films. I then did a short stint at a tech startup, and am now pivoting to education. I’m deeply interested in nurturing student leaders and also passionate about arts education.

Crewing with Directors Michael Hausman and Ang Lee

My High Point Experience—

High Point holds a very special place in my heart. It was an important time, and I have so many good memories of growing up at HPA. Those formative years are the time when you come into your own, and I can sincerely say that my self-concept and self-awareness began to take shape there. I was fortunate to attend High Point from 1st grade all the way through 8th. Over the years I have thought about HPA, grateful for the solid education I received in academics and in character development. Now, with two small children of my own, I find myself thinking more often about HPA as my husband and I make decisions about their schooling and as they ask for stories from my childhood.

Halloween in Second Grade

Unfortunately, I have not had the chance to come back to alumni events as I did my schooling on the East Coast, traveled frequently for work and have lived abroad for 12 years. I’ve lived in the U.S. (both coasts), France, China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan and highly recommend studying abroad!

Personal Observations and Reflections—

I still remember all of my teachers’ names and think of them all fondly. In hindsight I really lucked out in my education at HPA. Even the teachers who were strict or whose styles were more challenging for me to adapt to all had a positive influence on me. There are so many other memories, too many to share. There are even small moments which ended up having a big impact on my life, such as the librarian introducing me to Anne of Green Gables in 4th grade. To this day, the character Anne still remains a personal hero. I find myself telling my own children “Tomorrow is a new day, with no mistakes in it!”

I’m particularly grateful to Mrs. Schwartz who drilled us in writing five-paragraph essays. I dreaded those exams but the structure and skills she taught us through this exercise have been useful to me throughout my life, and I recall her approaching her instruction with humor and discipline at the same time. Through decades of schooling, one of my favorite teachers still remains Mrs. Richman, who, over the years, has become a personal friend. And sixth grade became one of the early turning points in my development as a student and as a person. I learned the value of holding high expectations for what I could accomplish, empowering me to think that I could achieve anything I put my mind to and giving me the confidence to take risks.

There are so many other memories from HPA, but one which was especially impactful was the formation of the Eagle’s Nest. I was a part of the student council that launched the Eagle’s Nest, and it was an experience that left a strong impression on me. We were given the freedom to do the planning and execution from start to finish. Thinking back, what a vote of confidence it was for the leadership at HPA to give middle schoolers the opportunity to start their own business. To see the store open, to see it provide a needed service, and to see the impact it had on campus life was thrilling. I think my entrepreneurial spirit was born at HPA.

After High Point, I attended Westridge School. It was a deliberate choice on my part to go to an all-girls school and it served me well. The confidence I gained at HPA fully blossomed at Westridge. It was a little difficult to transition away from the tight-knit class at High Point into a school where most of the students had been together since 4th grade. But overall, Westridge provided a fantastic education.

I think elementary school is such a critical phase; it’s the “first” for everything. More important than the knowledge and skills I gained at HPA was the positive spirit that was nurtured by the HPA community. The steadiness of the support, encouragement and empowerment I received allowed me to launch myself into the world with optimism, confidence and a service-oriented mindset. As such, the ups and downs of life, which are often accompanied by the loss of the innocence of childhood, allowed me to gain wisdom rather than to fall into disillusionment or cynicism . . . and that has made all the difference.

Additional Thoughts—

Something I appreciated greatly about HPA was the diversity of the student body and the down-to-earth community of families who made up HPA. I learned about—and was exposed to—many different cultures while at HPA, had a chance to take pride in my own culture and share it with my classmates, gained friends of all backgrounds and, finally, felt a genuine acceptance and warmth at HPA. There was very little of the flashiness that is sometimes associated with prep or private schools and to me, the strong values of community, kindness, and openness were lived out.

Hong Kong with my twins

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