Our ability to have a direct influence on the world around us is something students are both eager and fearful to explore. Eager because we know leadership equips us with life skills to prepare us for success in our careers and to help us serve our communities. Fearful because leadership tests us as individuals.
In my first two years of university, I was faced with exploring how to find the drive to be a leader and how to lead with ambition, integrity and compassion. I struggled with the concept of the born leader.” Since my involvement with the Centre for Community Engaged Learning (CCEL) I now know what it means to be a leader.
Leadership is believing in a cause or a program, and in yourself. My experiences in the CCEL have shown me that leadership comes from trusting that you have the ability to learn leadership skills.
My most recent inspiration was the visit from Conor Grennan, keynote speaker at the fall Class of 2015 induction ceremony, and author of Little Princes, the university’s Common Reading Program’s book selection for 2011. In his modest accounts of his efforts to stop child trafficking in Nepal, Grennan expressed his leadership philosophy as simply “believing.” He made me see that leadership demands perseverance—individuals to take their beliefs to the next level—even when a vision seems impossible.
Leadership isn’t easy. My experience in New Orleans with the CCEL and being involved with rebuilding efforts and food security tested my leadership. Despite the daunting task of rebuilding entire communities, the leaders I came across taught me that against all odds, being a leader asks us to stand up, when we want to sit—and to speak up, when it’s easier to stay silent.
Most importantly, leadership is possible. World leaders have done remarkable things. But leadership is not limited to a select few, rather the possibilities are endless for anyone who is willing. Grennan defined a leader as someone who “dives into challenges on behalf of others”—showing me that great leaders are not born, but made.
Leadership is not an act of control or authority over others—it’s an act of influence. We all hold the power of influence and therefore all of us exhibit some form of leadership in our lives, big or small.
I encourage all of you to harness your power and use it to better serve your communities. Just as the university’s Eyes High vision asks us to lift our eyes, I encourage all of you to reach for the stars, find something to believe in, be a visionary of change for whatever demands your perseverance, and lead the way.