Graland alumna Dr. Sarah Burgamy ’93 visited a middle school assembly recently to give an UpWords speech on Honor Individuality. UpWords speeches allow members of the Graland community (students, teachers, alumni) to share how they live Graland’s Guiding Principles in their everyday lives. Sarah’s message to students was, “Be as strange as you can … and do it visibly,” a motto she adopted after struggling with her own identity development.
Now a licensed clinical psychologist, Sarah first wanted to be an Olympic swimmer and have her picture on a Wheaties box. She described herself as a child who didn’t mind being dirty; she liked sports of all kinds and hated wearing dresses but liked dressing in costume. As a middle schooler, she wondered why she wasn’t a boy because she thought like a boy and liked the same things they liked.
“It got to the point that I was afraid of going into a public restroom,” she shared. “So often I was mistaken for a boy and sort of harassed for being in the women’s room. I just wanted to be understood.” So, throughout high school, Sarah began to conform to society’s idea of how a girl should look. She started to care more about her appearance and became a more feminine version of herself.
The change didn’t feel right though, she says. During college at Dartmouth, she took up rugby and for the first time met other women who were comfortable embracing both their feminine and masculine traits — women who could dress to the nines on the weekend, but tackle hard on the rugby field. They taught her that it was OK not to give in to societal norms.
As she got older and more comfortable with her identity — a gender nonconforming woman — Sarah realized that people are drawn to who she is inside. “It’s scary to think about getting rejected for how you dress or how you wear your hair,” she told students. “I used to be afraid of being who I am.”
Today, in her work serving Denver’s diverse communities, Sarah believes her nonconforming appearance is a huge asset that fosters trust and encourages authenticity with her patients. “It tells them right away that we have similar stories and they can relate to me.”
Honoring her individuality also means using her voice to advocate. She has given testimony at the Colorado State Capitol and spoken at a multicultural summit. Sarah is also on the Board of Directors for the Colorado Psychological Association (CPA) and served as Chair of the Society for the Advancement of Multiculturalism and Diversity (SAMD), a division of the CPA.