A large segment of our population is not aware of the many problems experienced in the early years of our democratic republic when the founding fathers debated about ways this new country would behave. We obtained our independence after a long, hard fight with the British and suddenly we got what we wanted. The 13 new states had more power than the federal government, and rather than acting as one country, some were tempted to behave like new countries. I like to use an analogy of a teenager who turns 18 with the realization that they can fly from the nest, but lose any and all benefits of living at home with Mom and Dad. Our country is fortunate there were people like Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, and Robert Morris who stepped forward with leadership and vision. Had it not been for them, our country would likely look altogether different today.
A few weeks ago my students contributed to a collage of words which exemplified leadership; words such as strong, brave, fearless, and more. Being a leader does not always require an individual to be in the forefront of daily events, and I often share with my students times when I see one of them help another with words of encouragement or a helping hand. One word I use in a positive light is INFLUENCE and how leadership is influenced by another's actions. One's smile can contribute to the success of another, especially when they are feeling down and out. There are days when I feel on the receiving end, then others when I become the giver. Regardless, I know the effect it can have in a all-too-powerful way. Each day I witness young people coming to school with baggage piled high on their shoulders, some of it so heavy that it can't be shaken...and my latest guest speaker hit straight to the heart as few have been able to do.
My friend James is a rather unique individual, one who has experienced the darkest of days. With steady persevere and keen focus on "getting it right", he has pulled himself out of a very deep hole and will graduate from a local university within the next 18 months. Some people never learn from their mistakes, but James has become all the more committed in his quest for the goal line. I had the perfect group in mind for him to speak with, and the time was ripe for his inclusion into my Friday schedule of classes. After allocating 45 minutes of time for his reflections on life, it quickly became obvious that the entire block period would be used for ongoing interactions between James, myself and sixty freshmen students who zoned in on the message. Without detailing personal information, James remained tactful in his approach, speaking from both head and heart. He offered both warning and hope to my classes, and they identified with his message in ways that far surpassed all expectations.
There will come a day when I reflect more on the message put forth by James to my students, but for now I circle back to the word INFLUENCE and how each of us can impact others when we chose to open up in a personal and professional manner. On the following Monday I passed a large thank-you card around the room and invited my class to share a line or two with James. Without the smallest prompt I found comments written with genuine and sincere meaning, and it was then that I knew that together we hit the grandest of home runs that day. In twenty years I hope to speak with some of the students who witnessed what took place, to see if James' words resonated in ways I had hoped. I would find satisfaction in knowing that you changed one's fate and prevented those same mistakes from happening once again. In the meantime, I have one very special graduation day marked on my calendar for May 2016.