The youth of Wisconsin keep my hope strong

Yesterday I had the distinct pleasure of speaking the Wisconsin Association of Student Councils (WASC) leadership conference. The goal of my  presentations to the middle and high school students as well as their advisors was to talk about not just being a leader, but being an upstanding leader. As a youth speaker, speaking on this issue is one of the topics I am most passionate about. I talked about the importance of not being a leader in name only who is just a bystander, but an upstanding leader who remembers to truly serve others. Speaking to these incredible students showed me that there was not much convincing that I had to do keep them motivated on this topic.

The WASC students came into the conference already motivated and excited to take themselves to the next level as leaders as well as individuals. Their dedication to improving their leadership skills for the betterment of their school and community was truly inspiring. I wish that they could livestream their entire 2-day conference so that America could see the positivity that exudes from our youth. Most of what we see of youth on television is overwhelmingly negative. If we as adults could be fed a daily dose of what youth like the WASC students are doing, we would be as optimistic about the future of this country as I am. Simply put, WASC students rock!

I encourage you today to intentionally look for something positive in the youth around you or in your community in general. It is too easy to be pessimistic about the future of our youth. If you look for negativity on the news from flashmob robbings to school shootings, you will find it. On the flip side, if you look for youth serving their communities by volunteering to help the homeless, tutoring after school, or helping to keep their community clean and safe, you will find that too. If you believe it and seek it, you will find it. Don’t stereotype our youth. They deserve better. They deserve our best. I am fortunate in my career to get to see them give their best everyday. I thank the WASC students for giving me that opportunity this past weekend.

So you call yourself a leader?

The chosen few are the few who chose

To step up to open doors tightly closed

So you call yourself a leader, but what does that mean?

Getting green, turning green, badly running your team?

Sadly killing the dream of hopeful teen?

Madly willing your ideas not even listening?

Does it mean you celebrate on election day

Cause you can add your new position to your resume?

Can you handle criticism when your peers dis’ you?

Cause you don’t care about theirs but only your issue?

Pass the tissue, makes me sad how some leaders let

Power get to their heads, constituents they forget

You’re just a leader in name if you’re just searchin for fame

For acclaim, it’s a shame why some get in the game

Leadership ain’t for the lame, don’t take it in vein

Time to rethink your position understand why you came

See a leader is someone who listens first then speaks

Someone focused on being the change we seek

Someone who understands they represent all people

Don’t get that your leadership will never have a sequel

Do you seek to understand before being understood?

Do you take time to visit other neighborhoods?

A leader builds coalitions, builds community

Builds unity, ain’t subject to impunity

We need real leaders to step up to the plate

To take a swing at racism, other types of hate

To stomp out bullying, help end genocide

Do your best to help others hold their heads with pride

A leader builds a team, can’t do it all by yourself

A leader remembers to practice good health

Cause you’re no good to no one if you’re not good to you

So let me ask you again, is leadership in you?

National Student Council Conference: a better future IS possible

This past weekend, I had the true honor of speaking to over 1,000 students at the National Association of Student Councils’  (NASC) annual conference. I have spoken to youth across America and across the globe, but I had never participated in a Student Council conference before, even though I was president of the Student Council in high school. This conference was a refreshing reminder of why I chose to serve my school in this capacity when I was a student. In short, student council leaders are awesome!!!

From the second I walked in the door of the lovely Ocoee High School where the conference was held, I felt the student energy. Whether in the hallways or in the sessions, these students were actively engaged in everything they did. They were not just there to get away from home. Over three days, I saw them engage great speakers like Cara Filler, Mark Black, Kimyung Kim and others in serious conversations about leadership, service, and decision-making. What NASC does so well at their conferences is that they do not just have keynote speakers speak and leave. The speakers and students also lead smaller workshops, so we got to engage the students at a deeper level.

When it was my turn to speak, I truly felt like a rockstar because the students and incredible advisers gave me such a great reception over the prior two days. I was so moved that I just HAD to put on one of their capes when I took the stage! I have NEVER worn a cape on stage before but I was feeling the spirit after a great introduction by Tori and Cooper, two powerful student leaders! After my speech, I spent about an hour just talking to students who came from as close as Florida to as far away as China! It was an event I will never forget.

Theses student UPstanders at this conference had me feeling extremely confident about the future of America. I really believe that these youth will right our wrongs. It is a shame that I cannot point to our “adult” lawmakers in my town of Washington, DC as an example of what can happen when we put service and country first but I believe these incredible leaders of today (not tomorrow) have figured out how to build communities together just fine. I truly hope that I am blessed with future opportunities to work with NASC at state conferences and summer leadership programs. These students and advisers have created an incredible model that other programs should follow. As I said to so many of them at the conference, ROCK ON!