"Now I appreciate them for who they are, and am not embarrassed. … Now I learn from them."
Defending her position as two-time winner of the North American Irish Dance Championship keeps Kate Babcock ’17 busy: leaping and tapping nightly, analyzing and perfecting her routines, traveling to tournaments at home and abroad. But when she puts aside her soft and hard shoes, leaves behind the lights, and stops impressing judges, Kate turns her attention outward, toward non sibi.
The roots of Kate’s commitment to others began early, when a PEA student penned letters to her. Then a fourth grader at Lincoln Street School in the town of Exeter, Kate anticipated every note: to see what colors her pen pal had used, what stickers she’d applied. Most of all, Kate remembers the feelings the words gave her: “This big kid cares about me and my life. Maybe I want to do what she’s doing.”
This year, Kate returned the favor, writing to a student at the same school who had the same teacher. Describing the care she put into the letters, Kate explains, “I wanted to make it personal every time so that she’d be as excited as I was in elementary school.”
Kate relishes her time with older groups as well. As a member of Gal Pals, she makes crafts and bakes with young women with mental disabilities. “They’re so fun,” Kate says. “They have so many good stories.” Recently, she worked steadily on a yearbook project with a Pal, a fun-loving girl who usually can’t stay still long enough to complete a task. “It was a breakthrough for her and me,” Kate says. As the daughter of a speech and language pathologist, Kate was prepared for helping such peers. But it hasn’t always been easy for her: “I used to be almost scared. It was hard to predict what they wanted, what they’d say. Now I appreciate them for who they are, and am not embarrassed. … Now I learn from them.”
When she’s not helping those in the community, Kate gives back to PEA. In her role in H4, the student-run health and wellness club, she’s helped take part in the conversational dinners with classmates and faculty and has worked on the club’s newsletter, encouraging wellness among her peers. She wants to demystify the health center, which can be intimidating to newcomers. “Students need to know they have all of these resources they’re not aware how to utilize,” she says.
With such enjoyment of her connections to and through the school, it's no wonder that Kate was a little nervous about being a day student when she started. “I thought I’d be isolated from the whole dorm thing,” she explains. But the opposite has happened. “All of my best friends are boarders,” she says. In fact, those boarders are grateful to have her family nearby. Kate shops for them and her mom takes them in, doing laundry and offering home-cooked meals and support, hoping others will do the same for her Kate's sibings, who board at a different school.
So when Kate returns to the stage this spring to seek the world title, she has a number of fans out there who have never seen her dance, but will be cheering just the same: her Exeter classmates, her Gal Pal buddies, and probably most of all, Sydney, her pen pal at Lincoln Street School.