They told me the play was called Cindy Ellen and it was going to be a variation of the Cinderella story. Okay, maybe that's why I didn't hear about it. Everyone knows that Cinderella is a beautiful blonde. I was a brunette. Sure, all right. That made sense. I was certain that was why I hadn't been approached. When I was growing up, there were no brunette dolls to play with. There were no brunette angels for the Christmas tree, and Cinderella was definitely a blonde! I tried to justify all of this in my mind, and yet I still felt very bad. I wanted to cry but I didn't want the other girls to see how terrible I was feeling. My girlfriend and I walked away. I was still fighting back my tears when we ran into Mrs. Morrison and Mrs. Smith, our local Girl Scout troop leaders.
"Susan! We've been looking for you." I could see Mrs. Morrison holding what looked to be a script under her arm.
"We want you to play Cindy Ellen in our play." It turned out that I was not only going to be in the play, I got the lead! I had no idea how the troop leaders knew that I wanted to be an actress more than anything else in the world, but I sure was glad they sought me out and that they thought I could do it. It was a wonderful turnaround to go from thinking I had been overlooked to being cast as the lead. I was absolutely thrilled because this was going to be my first legitimate stage appearance.
It was right around this same time that my mother handed me my very first copy of Seventeen magazine and my whole world changed forever.
"I think you will like this," she said.
And she was right; I did.
I believe the day she gave me that magazine, my mother was encouraging me to pursue my dream. The girls within the pages were all beautiful teenagers with such nice hair. I was mesmerized by all the posing and grown-up fashion. I began fantasizing about becoming one of the models I saw on the page. The only problem was, I was very petite and my hair, which is naturally curly, didn't look a thing like their perfectly straight and shiny watching my mother take very good care of her skin and her health, which was a practice she passed on to me as well.The magazine was full of articles that helped me understand how important all of those things were, especially for a young girl. That was the day I realized there was a whole wide world out there to be discovered and it was mine for the taking.
When I was 16 years old, I entered a competition to become an exchange student. It was sponsored by my high school and our local community. There was a required essay and several interviews involved in the selection process to become a student ambassador living abroad for the summer. After giving it some thought, I decided to focus on the program that was called Experiment in International Living. The program took place over three months during the summer between my junior and senior years of high school. It turned out that I was one of four kids selected from our community to participate. France and Sweden were my first two choices because I wanted to experience living in a place that I had natural ties to. Unfortunately, I didn't get either of those locations, and I was ultimately placed with a Norwegian family.
Living in Norway was a fantastic experience. This was the first time I really knew what it meant to think in a global way. When we got to Norway, I went through orientation with nine other kids from all over the United States who had come to live there as well. I had never before met anyone who lived in places such as Iowa and Indiana. Our teachers and chaperones were a married couple who were also professors from Yale. Shortly after our arrival, we met our respective families, who typically had a child around our age. The family I was placed with lived outside of Oslo, in an island community. They wanted to host an American exchange student because they wanted their children to practice speaking English. Many citizens of Scandinavian countries encourage their children to learn English as a second language, so although I didn't get to learn much Norwegian, I did get to experience their culture. It was interesting to talk to my Norwegian family, who asked me lots of questions about the Kennedys, American politics and American opinions. This was an awakening for me because it was the first time I had stepped outside my own country as a "representative" of the United States of America. It was the first time I felt a responsibility for the way I spoke about America as an American. I wasn't sure I had all of the right answers. I hadn't spoken of these things to anyone else before this trip to Europe. But I knew the Kennedys were revered in our country, so I could easily speak to that. The world admired President and Mrs. Kennedy. It wasn't a hard sell.