For first time, De La Salle Institute’s student leaders are women

By Michelle Martin | Staff writer
Wednesday, May 15, 2024

Isabel Esterly, Gabby Wilson and Taylor Schergen, seniors at De La Salle Institute, 3434 S. Michigan Ave., serve in leadership roles at the school. Known as the ”mayors,” they lead the student body in participating in a variety of activities to raise school spirit. Formerly an all boys school, De La Salle Institute became a co-educational school in 2016. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)

For most of its 135-year history, De La Salle Institute has prided itself on educating the leaders of Chicago.

The school, on the corner of Michigan Avenue and 35th Street, counts five Chicago mayors among its notable alumni, as well as numerous aldermen and state and county legislators.

But all of those mayors were men, because the school educated only boys until 2002, when it opened a separate campus for young women. It has been fully coeducational for the last seven years.

This year, for the first time, all of the school mayors — as De La Salle calls its student government presidents — are young women, as is the school’s president, Anne Marie Tirpak, who came on board two years ago.

“Women need to be prepared for all levels of service and leadership in the world, whether it is in government, health care, law or anything else,” said Tirpak, who is the first lay president of De La Salle Institute as well as the first woman president. “It has only been decades that women have been given this opportunity.”

The three mayors of the “City of De,” as the student government is known, are all involved in leadership in other school organizations and, between them, represent a wide swath of students, about half of whom are female, Tirpak said

Seniors Isabel Esterly, Taylor Schergen and Gabby Wilson have been involved in City of De since they were freshmen.

Since becoming a coed school, the City of De has traditionally had two mayors: one male student and one female student.

Last year, no young men put their names forward, Tirpak said, and the vote totals from City of De members were so close that the school decided to name all three young women candidates as mayors.

Schergen, who plans to attend the University of St. Francis in Joliet next year, said it’s been helpful to divide the work three ways. Schergen is faculty liaison for the National Honor Society, and next year plans to study math with a concentration on secondary education while playing college basketball.

The mayors work with the rest of the City of De to plan student activities, including pep rallies, homecoming and dress-down theme days that happen throughout the school year. They also represent the student body at various events, including those for the community and for alumni.

Wilson, president of the National Honor Society, said she wanted to be a mayor so that she could make sure all students’ voices were heard when it came to events.

“I wanted to try to get more of the students’ input, and to make sure my class was happy with what we were doing,” said Wilson, who plans to study communications at Northwestern University.

In previous years, she said, it felt that some of the themes were focused more on the boys than the girls. This year, they tried to come up with themes for everyone, including, for example, a “dynamic duo” dress-down day. For that, groups or pairs of students dressed as everything from Mike and Sully from “Monsters Inc.” to Alvin and the Chipmunks to a pair of coaches from the school.

Esterly said that this year’s mayors thought they were successful at building school spirit by increasing student attendance and participation at football games, for example, and by coming up with student vs. teacher competitions that got everyone cheering at pep rallies.

“Before, people would be talking to each other instead of paying attention to what was going on,” said Esterly, who is president of the school’s Girls Who Code organization and who plans to study computer science and dance at Washington University in St. Louis.

Schergen, whose father is principal at De La Salle and who has a younger brother there, said her impression was that COVID-19 took a toll on school spirit.

The young women know that hearing about girls in leadership at De La Salle is still surprising to some alumni; they’ve seen the reactions when they wear De La Salle clothing out in the neighborhood.

“They say, ‘Wait, girls go to this school now?’” Esterly said.

Having all three mayors be female students demonstrates that “women do have a place at this school,” she said.

Tirpak, who has announced her plans to move on after her contract ends this year, said that having female students has been good for the school in many ways. While the student population is about 50% female, girls made up a majority of the school’s Illinois State Scholars this year, and longtime teachers report fewer disciplinary issues.

Girls have also been successful in athletics, with the girls’ soccer team making it to the state final this year, a female wrestler also represented the school in the state tournament this year, Tirpak said.

And, she and the mayors said, the boys at the school support their female classmates.

“I don’t feel there is division between the sexes,” Tirpak said. “I think there is mutual support across the board. Teachers, students and parents will say it’s like a family.”


  • de la salle institute
  • high schools

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