Student Alumni in the Spotlight: Sarah Fennessey

Posted on August 11, 2020 by

Get to know Class Afloat faculty and students throughout the ages in our Alumni in the Spotlight series.

What’s your name?

Sarah FennesseySarah Fennessey

Where are you from?

Calgary, Alberta, Canada

What year did you sail with Class Afloat?

2010 Winter Semester and 2010-2011 Full Year

Do you still keep in touch with your shipmates?

Yes! I just got married last fall and had a few floaties attend the wedding. A few of us also got together more recently to have dinner on February 17th, the ten year anniversary of our last day on the SV Concordia. We may not speak every day, or even every month, but when we do get together we pick up right where we left off.

Where are you now?

I just moved back to Calgary two months ago after living nearly a decade away in Montreal.

What have you been up to following your time at sea?

So much has happened in the last decade! I graduated from McGill with an undergraduate degree in Psychology, I got a French Bulldog and named her Pants, I founded a social enterprise called Vent Over Tea, I entered the workforce and became a Sales Manager, I got married and I bought a house. It’s been a huge decade!

What impact did Class Afloat have on your life and career?

Class Afloat shaped who I am as a person. It made me more empathetic, resilient, and open to new challenges. Class Afloat pushed me far outside my comfort zone, and led me to develop new skills at a pace I didn’t know I was capable of.

I think the most impactful moments for me were the toughest moments aboard the ship. The moments that forced me to take off my mask, break down, and be vulnerable with my peers. This is where my personal growth and development happened. Sure, the traveling and sailing was absolutely amazing, but the hard parts were what shaped me: the conflicts, the hard labour, the night watches in terrible weather, the seasickness, the really bad storms, the lack of sleep, the early morning galley duty, the lack of privacy, the homesickness etc. I learned that the most rewarding moments can come from enduring that discomfort.

This has had a dramatic impact on my life, as I gained the resilience to withstand the initial discomfort of a new challenge. It reduced my fear of jumping into the unknown, and I’ve had unique opportunities arise from that.

One great example would be how I created a social enterprise called Vent Over Tea: an active listening service that pairs people who need to talk with empathetic listeners in local cafes. This idea came to me when I was studying at McGill and struggling with some personal stressors that weren’t “serious enough” to require professional help. I was sitting in a psych class that was discussing the positive impacts of talking to an empathetic listener, and thought wouldn’t it be great if we could have on-demand great listeners willing to lend a free hour of their time to listen to you vent.

With that thought, I jumped right into the unknown of how to launch a volunteer based start-up. I had the courage to try and the resilience to withstand the ever present imposter syndrome. I took all those skills Class Afloat imparted on me and created something I’m so proud of. It also had a trickle down effect into other aspects of my life.

I got this project off the ground in Montreal, and entered a start-up competition with it. We came in first place, and on the night we went out to celebrate, I met the husband of a recruiter who worked at a local start-up. He introduced me to his wife, and she got me a phenomenal job that helped springboard my career to where I am now. It also happened to be at the company where I met my husband.

TLDR:  Class Afloat reduced my fear of jumping into the unknown, and I’ve had unique opportunities arise from that.

What is your favourite Class Afloat memory?

Seeing dolphins swim alongside our bow as they raced through bioluminescent plankton. The plankton made it appear as if they were glowing and leaving a trail of light in the water behind them.

Close second: sitting in the fowlie closet with a close friend eating Nutella by the spoonful.

If you could offer your younger self one piece of advice, what would it be?

Every struggle and hardship you face will shape you into a stronger, more resilient version of yourself. Trust the process, you will come out of this better than before.

What was your biggest takeaway from your Class Afloat journey?

I discovered that the best friendships emerge from being vulnerable with one another. On the ship you can’t hide any part of yourself, your crew-mates will see the good, the bad, and the ugly. In sharing every side of yourself, you create these unbreakable bonds built on humility, honesty, and trust. I left Class Afloat with a willingness to open up to people, and connect on a deeper level.