If you were speaking to Tara Maloney over the phone instead of in person, you’d likely think someone much older than 17 were at the other end of the line. When she shares her goals, beliefs, and recent experiences, you might, like Tara herself, bemoan the fact that she isn’t even old enough to vote.
The Madison resident is a junior at the Hopkins School in New Haven, where she is one of the co-heads of the Young Democrats Club and a member of the varsity girls’ water polo team and the varsity swim team. She recently returned to her alma mater The Country School to give an Elmore Leadership Lecture about her experiences at the School for Ethics and Global Leadership in Washington, D.C.
Tara was one of 24 students from across the country selected to attend the semester-long program this past fall.
“The idea is that it helps kids who are interested in politics and in leadership learn more about those issues in an environment that is full of so many incredible leaders,” she says.
For The Country School, she says, “I ran an activity on leadership. My idea was to talk about different types of leadership because I know that I always heard a lot about a certain type of leader, like a politician or the person who stands up and rallies the troops, that vocal, very white-male-adult cookie-cutter leader. I am not a white male, I am white, I am not male. And I am also not necessarily that type of person. I can be introverted; I really don’t like large group discussions, and I don’t always want to be the center of attention. It’s not always pleasant for me.”
Tara shared material she learned during her semester at the school for Ethics and Global Leadership with the Country School students.
She says, “We talked a lot about different types of leadership, and we divided them into four categories: driver, amiable, expressive, and supportive. Basically, I divided people into groups based on two questions, and they would walk to different sides of the room based on their answers. So drivers are people who—I’m a driver—who like to talk early and often in discussions, and who also tend to make decisions logically, like based on facts rather than emotions. Expressive also talks early and often in discussions, but tends to be more emotional and more drawn to how things feel than facts. Amiables tend to talk later in discussions, but also are more emotionally driven, and then analysts talk later, but are more fact-driven.
“All those are different types of leaders, but only expressives are really likely to be the ones who stand in front of the group. An analyst is probably not going to talk and make the big dramatic speech, but they’re important leaders, too, because they can shape the way discussions are had, the way things go, and they can talk about new opinions, new facts, and they tend to be more open to other people’s ideas because they listen more in discussions. The same thing with amiables, but those are on the emotional side. So everyone is an important type of leader, but not all of those people are going to be the one person you think of as being a leader, so I really wanted to communicate that to the group of kids so they could have this concept that you don’t need to be that [stereotypical] person [to be a leader].”
Tara has already spent time with Connecticut’s leaders on the campaign trail. Last year, she volunteered on several political campaigns for the Democratic party, including Joe Courtney and Dannel Malloy. She will also join the Ted Kennedy, Jr., state senate campaign.
She says, “I’ve been interested in politics for a long time.”
She credits her teacher at The Country School, Sarah Barber, with igniting her passion in the 8th grade.
“It was an election year and we were studying U.S. history, so we spent the first couple of weeks learning about the election and the branches of the government. We sort of culminated the unit with a presidential debate where half the class was Obama and half the class was Mitt Romney, and we debated back and forth. I realized that I really liked politics and I was really interested in these issues.”
With that, Tara implores, “Everyone needs to get out and vote because I can’t! I missed the deadline for this election by two months. My birthday is in February.”
She’ll still be able to make an impact. She’s been selected to participate in a State Department-sponsored National Security Languages Institute program in Morocco to study Arabic this summer. Her family will be back home in Madison supporting her latest adventure.
Tara’s mom, Macdara MacColl, is a marriage and family therapist for Westbrook Youth & Family Services. Her dad, Mike Maloney, is an insurance broker. Her twin younger brothers, Sawyer and Craigin, are in 7th grade at the Hopkins School, and appear to be following in their older sister’s footsteps.
“They really like school,” Tara says. “They’re new to the more competitive atmosphere, but they like it.”
Looking ahead, Tara says her dream is to work for the State Department as a political officer in the diplomatic corps.
“So that would mean being a diplomat and living in other countries and working in embassies there to promote American interests abroad.”
But she has plenty of local passions as well.
“Locally, I’m interested in economics,” she says. “Connecticut is one of the few states that is agreeing to take in Syrian refugees. Dannel Malloy and all our senators and representatives are very committed to taking in more Syrian refugees, and I would be really interested in asking candidates to talk about creating economic opportunities for those refugees, because that’s a way for them to both contribute to society and to have a place in a completely new country, which is, I must imagine, terrifying.”
As for her upcoming program in Morocco, where she’ll stay with a local host family, Tara says, “It teaches students through language immersion really critical languages such as Arabic that are becoming very important in the modern world, but are less often taught in schools. So they offer programs in Arabic, in Hindi, Persian. Chinese is a very popular one...Students go to those countries and learn both about the political issues in the area, and then also about the language itself.”
She will stay for about seven weeks, she says.
“I’m going to Rabat, which is the capital and the political center, so that’s really cool, I’m very excited. My parents are very excited and they’re very supportive. They trust me. My dad originally didn’t realize that when I said I want to go to a school and learn Arabic, he thought I meant a school in the U.S., that I would go to a school in Vermont or something. He didn’t realize I meant Africa. That was straightened out. My mom understood. She explained it to him and he was okay with it.”
Tara knows she’s in for a challenge, to say the least.
“I have phrase books. Arabic’s a really complicated language, but in their newspapers, they never include vowels. There’s two alphabets, a normal alphabet and a script alphabet. It’s almost the same, but not quite the same. At least it’s not Japanese—they have four alphabets!”