Being Fearless

Being Fearless

Stephanie McFaddin ‘83 takes a ‘why not’ approach to life

Stephanie McFaddin ‘83 doesn't hesitate when asked who she considers her hero. 

“My mother has most inspired me; she always raised me to feel like I could do anything,” McFaddin says of her mom, who passed away in 2018. “We grew up in the Los Angeles inner city, and even though we didn’t have a lot of money, she would find ways for us to do things. She had us recite poetry to teach us articulation and inflection; we would all pile into our station wagon, and she would drive us to places like the beach or the park to make sure we were exposed to different kinds of people and experiences. I never thought of myself as underprivileged; my mom made me feel fearless.” 

That influence is how McFaddin arrived at Govs. Her mother asked her ‘why not?’ when she was unsure of applying to the Academy, and then trusted her daughter to move across the country to the suburban campus in Byfield, Massachusetts. McFaddin was among the first classes of girls to enter the Academy — and was one of the first three Black women to attend and the first Black woman to graduate. 

“I was paired with a Big Sister, Jenny Graf ‘81, when I arrived at GDA; she and Isaiah “Ike” Suggs ‘78, P’97,’02, (Black Student Union mentor), checked in on me,” McFaddin recalls. “Jenny provided wisdom from a senior’s perspective and a woman’s perspective since she arrived at GDA only three years after they had gone coed. Ike gave insight to the Black perspective at GDA.”

Though she was part of many ‘Govs firsts,’ McFaddin says she didn’t want that to define her. “I wanted to be recognized for my character and intellect, not my novelty,” she says, noting that she sometimes challenged ideas, questioning, for example, whether a designated Black Student Union would segregate the community. “Ike told me that I was a bit of a rebel at GDA.”

That kind of spark never left McFaddin, particularly in her role as mother and advocate for her “ducks” — an endearing term she uses for her two daughters and two sons (even now as adults). Her sons are on the autism spectrum and started behavior therapy and physical therapy at early ages. And, McFaddin was well aware of the intersectionality of her sons being Black males. 

“Social skills training is very important for minority autistic children — especially Black males because there are experiences they have that are different from white males,” McFaddin says. When her sons were old enough to start driving, she signed them up for Spectrum Shield, a training program that teaches safety with law enforcement. “When I saw the video of the training, it made me cry because on the first traffic stop the police officer told one of the participants to put his hands on the dash, but he didn’t know what the dash was. He was uncomfortable so he was giggling and reaching around the car. If this hadn’t been a training, it could have ended much differently.”

Like her own mother, McFaddin wanted to make sure that all of her ducks — and now her grandson “duckling” — felt fearless, and she had a similar way of doing that through exposure to diverse experiences. “Some people like to shelter children with different abilities, but my approach was exposure so they could learn to help themselves in the world in which they lived. One of my sons was hypersensitive to sound, for example, so I would take him to movie theaters, then street fairs where they had bands, and eventually concerts. Today he has a side hustle as a deejay and loves it.”

While being a hands-on mom, advocating for her two daughters and her sons, McFaddin worked for the City of Los Angeles for 32 years — most recently as senior street services investigator for the law enforcement section of the Department of Public Works. She was responsible for enforcing laws and regulations about the safe use and condition of the public right of way. She considers her final assignment — processing applications for special events — her most satisfying and rewarding. 

“It was my job to inspect the intended locations to ensure the location could accommodate the event and initially assess the impact of the intended street closure,” McFaddin says of events that ranged from small-scale block parties and street fairs to the Oscars, Taste of Soul, CicLAvia, and The Los Angeles Marathon. She thrived on coordinating with the Mayor’s office, event sponsors, and necessary city services like the Los Angeles Police Department and Fire Department, signposting, traffic engineers, and street maintenance. And she ties her success on the job back to Govs. “My experiences at GDA assisted in preparing me for dealing with people from all walks of life, nurtured a diplomatic spirit, and reinforced my ability to work independently and think critically (thank you Tom Mechem [teacher] and Mike Mulligan ‘71 [former Head of School]), and manage my time.”  

For more than a decade, McFaddin has also mentored parents of neurodivergent children on advocacy and access to resources, and, not surprisingly, she is an advocate for access to education. “I’ve been blessed with educational opportunities, and I would love to someday fund a scholarship for students who may not necessarily test high on standardized tests or be in the top 5% in their class but do exhibit the potential to benefit from a prep school experience. GDA is called a college preparatory school, but for me, it was honestly a life preparatory school.”

Read a recent Q&A with McFaddin as part of our 50 Women at Govs project.