This article originally appeared in the winter 2018 issue of Harker Magazine.
Words by Vikki Bowes-Mok
As a college student at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., Estelle Charlu Willie ’05 had a front-row seat when President Obama’s Affordable Care Act was passed in 2010. It was a pivotal moment for her, and altered how she wanted to make an impact in the world.
“Growing up, I wanted to be a doctor, because I wanted a meaningful and fulfilling career,” Willie remembered. “But one of my professors in college suggested a course in public health, where I delved into health policy, including the many nuances of the health reform debate that resulted in the Affordable Care Act. It made me shift gears, because I realized that I could make an impact through a different route.”
Willie had made an impact at Harker too, through excellent academics, student council and the performing arts program, where she earned a Conservatory Certificate in musical theater. “Estelle was a beloved performer and you could literally see her excitement and love for being on stage,” said Laura Lang-Ree, director of K-12 performing arts. “She had the best work ethic, and you always wanted her big heart, commitment and talent in any production.”
Willie started early on stage as a flower girl in the musical “Annie” when she was in junior kindergarten. She caught the eye of teacher Jeanne Davey, who directed the kindergarten musicals, when she had to improvise on stage when another actress forgot her cue. In kindergarten, Willie went on to play a leading role as Anastasia, one of Cinderella’s evil stepsisters. “It was a role that was out of character for her, since she was one of the kindest and most thoughtful kids I ever worked with,” remembers former lower school teacher Pat Walsh, whose son Kevin played Prince Charming in the same play. “She has a heart as big as her brain, and I could see that emerging when she was just a youngster.”
Willie went on to do it all – from dance and show choir to dramas and musicals. She treasured her time onstage and understands that the breadth of her experience has taken her far. While she sang and danced her way through high school, she was also a focused and hard-working student.
“She was a tremendous writer who was passionate about everything she set out to do,” said history teacher Cyrus Merrill. “I am not surprised to hear that she has found herself in a public policy-related career trying to make a greater impact on society or social justice issues.”
One of the ways she is shaping our world is through her work at Weber Shandwick, one of the world’s leading global public relations firms. Willie is a leader in the social impact practice, where she works with purpose-driven brands and organizations to raise global awareness of urgent social issues and mobilize support among policymakers, the media and the public.
One of Willie’s clients is Craig Newmark, founder of craigslist and Craig Newmark Philanthropies, who is working tirelessly to promote civic engagement through grassroots efforts that support trustworthy journalism, voter protection, women in technology, and veterans and military families. Newmark recently help launch The Markup, a news site that will use a data-driven approach to investigate technology and its effect on society, with a $20 million gift.
This type of impact is what drives Willie every day. “My path wasn’t linear, but all the choices I’ve made have helped shape where I am today,” she said from her office in New York City. “A broad education makes a huge difference, but I would also urge Harker students to take advantage of extracurriculars. They help you develop intrinsic leadership skills that will take you far and cultivate friendships that will last a
Vikki Bowes-Mok is also the executive director of the community nonprofit Compass Collective.