As part of the goal to grow lifelong learners who are “engaged citizens and thoughtful leaders,” Graland Country Day School often invites alumni back to campus to share their experiences and their respective journeys beyond Graland. Through a program called UpWords, alumni are able to face middle schoolers and discuss how they live Graland Guiding Principles in their everyday lives.
Dr. Sarah Burgamy grew up in Hilltop and attended Graland with the class of 1993. She presented recently on the topic of honoring individuality and her 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. From a young age, 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, beginning in middle school, Sarah began to conform to society’s idea of how a girl should look. She started to alter her appearance to project a more feminine version of herself.
The change didn’t feel right though, she says. During college at Dartmouth, she took up rugby and through this sport she found strong community around the expressive wholeness of gender. Here, she was surrounded by other young women who weren't afraid to embody their feminine gender, however they felt this, and still be aggressive athletically. “The experience of being embraced in my fullness and reflected in different ways by others felt so affirming,” she said.
As Sarah got older and more comfortable with her identity — a gender nonconforming woman — she realized that people are drawn to the person 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,” she said.
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 the Colorado delegate to the American Psychological Association (APA) Council of Representatives and the current chair of the APA Committee on Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity (CSOGD).