During her sophomore year at the College of William and Mary, Kate Donati ’20 saw a posting for the Shanti Garudasana yoga school in Williamsburg, Virginia and decided to look into the opportunity as a way to give back to the community she had grown so fond of. Two years later with graduation on the horizon, Donati’s decision to become a yoga teacher at the College has cultivated her passion for education and set her on a new, unexpected path.
While Donati was born in Virginia, she lived in the Philippines from eighth grade until her senior year of high school and attended an international school in Manila. In East Asia, Donati began practicing meditation to help with anxiety and fluctuating degrees of personal wellness that originated from her rigorous high school environment. Her interest in meditation gradually evolved into her passion for yoga, which Donati currently teaches three classes of both at the McLeod Tyler Wellness Center and the Student Recreation Center. She has worked hard to mold her unique teaching style over the years, buoyed by her own personal experiences.
“I always say that my yoga class is the place where you’re going to put yourself first,” Donati said. “Yoga is exactly what you put into it, and it’s also what you’re looking to get out of it. You can come work on flexibility, you can come work on muscle tone, you could come work on spiritual centering. My class is an invitation to anybody who just wants to be embraced for exactly who they want to be at the moment. If you want to come and sit on your mat for the 60 minutes and just breathe, that’s yoga.”
Donati’s experience teaching yoga has altered her trajectory in life. In the past, she had dismissed teaching as a profession and instead planned to become a lawyer. Through teaching yoga at the College, she discovered a passion that she hopes to further express after graduation.
“I’ve literally changed my entire idea of a career path because I found out how much I love teaching,” Donati said. “I was always very anxious, very shy. I didn’t really like to be the center of attention, and that changed. … I love teaching. Giving back in that way is so important to me.”
Donati’s plan now consists of pursuing a Ph.D in religious studies while continuing to teach yoga. Despite the anxiety that accompanies such a major change in her future, she embraces the challenges that lay ahead.
“In the religion department, there’s so much there, and I really just want to delve into it,” Donati said.
“In the religion department, there’s so much there, and I really just want to delve into it,” Donati said. “I could spend seven years talking about it and thinking about it, and I think that’s the fire that you need when you’re thinking about getting a post-grad degree in any sort of capacity.”
Donati’s time in the Philippines also afforded deeper insight into her cultural identity. While she introduces herself as Irish-Italian, her peers label her as American, which caused Donati to consider her own heritage and forge a stronger connection to her past. At the College, that passion has manifested in Donati’s studies, as she intends to declare an Italian minor to accompany her major in English. She has also applied for a Fulbright grant to teach English in Italy following graduation.
“Just saying ‘I’m American’ didn’t really sit well with me because I was also experiencing a lot of different cultures,” Donati said. “I would talk to my friends who belonged to it, or I would travel to those countries, like Thailand, and I’d get to see the temples and taste the food, and talk to the people, and practice the yoga. If somebody came to America and they wanted to know what my culture looked like … it would look much more like an Italian-American heritage story than it would anything else, so I wanted to dig into it for those reasons as well.”
Donati’s journey has also been significantly shaped by her growing realization of the privilege she benefited from during her time in both the Philippines and the United States.
“The white privilege that I have here in the States is pervasive, and everyone who is white experiences it, whether they want to admit it or not,” Donati said. “When I was over there, it was much more tangible in a very different way. It was knowing that if my mom and I were trying to go in a parking lot that was closed or go down a street that was technically blocked off, and if a security guard or traffic cop pulled us over, we were not getting a ticket. It was confronting my whiteness in a way that you don’t have to do.”
Donati said that she became aware of her “otherness” while she lived in the Philippines, and that these experiences ultimately shaped her when she returned to the United States.
“It’s kind of the reverse, where I was othered and I was different, but I was also still the standard to be held to — people wanted to be blonde, and people wanted to blue eyed,” Donati said.
“It’s kind of the reverse, where I was othered and I was different, but I was also still the standard to be held to — people wanted to be blonde, and people wanted to blue eyed,” Donati said. “I became aware of the privilege that my skin affords me and how that lets me move through things much easier than everybody else.”
Donati is also involved in other roles on campus. She was an Orientation Aide for three years, and she has worked in the College’s Office of Undergraduate Admission since she was a freshman. She spent the past summer working in Williamsburg as a senior interviewer and tour guide, talking with prospective students and giving them a glimpse of the collaborative and supportive environment that the College has to offer.
As she readies herself to embark on a new journey, Donati reflected on how her time at the College has made her a more holistic, self-assured person.
“Growing up, you would have said, ‘Oh, Kate, she’s a swimmer,’” Donati said. “Now I feel like I don’t really have the one thing people go to. I’m hopeful that people on campus who know me would think of different things when they think of me, like either the OA, or the yoga teacher, or the senior interviewer or just the dope person who has really cool style.”