On a certain plane ride to the southern deserts of Utah, I sat down next to an elderly woman with a cute, floppy hat. I commented on it, which sparked a conversation that lasted the entire plane ride—a full five and half hours. We swapped our entire life stories, cried a lot, did some Sudoku, and looked through her entire camera roll…and while I remember all of these gestures in great detail, one particular statement she made stuck out more than the rest.
“You know, Abigail, we grow up being conditioned to believe that we all have to be leaders, and not followers. But I’ve discovered that you should be neither a leader nor a follower; just be yourself.”
The conversation progressed, but yet words still perplexed me. After all, why on earth would anyone not attempt to be a leader? When given the opportunity, why should someone stay seated when they could stand up and take a challenge?
Yet over time, I began to see what she meant.
We typically understand “leaders” as the people with the loudest voices or the strongest passion, or the best on the football field, or the bravest of spirit, or the highest grades, or the appointment to positions of student leadership…if someone stands out from his or her peers in a positive way, then that person is revered as a leader.
The truth is that all of the less visible members of our school have great potential to lead, but in unique ways. After all, not everyone plays varsity squash, not everyone understands AP Calculus. Not everyone is on student government, not everyone can dance.
However, each name that will be on the 2014 graduation pamphlet brings something to the Williston community that no one else can. We are each unique, and we can and must learn to grow from one another and our individual talents, interests, and abilities. The moment we choose to open up to our community, we become stronger, both inside ourselves, and as a school.
Leadership is not a position. To yearn to be perceived as a “leader” invalidates the purpose of leadership entirely. It is a mindset. It is a desire to make your community a better, more bonded place in whichever way you can. It is the ability to use your own personality and your own set of unique abilities to uplift your community as a whole, not simply as an individual. Williston gives us the opportunities to lift us to our highest potential, but that cannot be done without a caring, honest, and united community. Not one of us is “The Follower,” and not one of us is “The Leader.” We are all, as a team, bringing the best of ourselves to a community that is worth bettering, for even if you are not the one who scores the winning goal, the whole team still wins, and it wins together.
So what does this idea look like on an every day basis? It means treating everyone with the utmost kindness, no matter his or her grade, occupation, interests, ethnicity, sexuality, religion, economic background, gender identity, or any other identifying factor. It means respecting someone even if he or she has hurt you. It means not talking behind anyone’s back. It means living with a purpose, pursuing with passion, and acting with integrity. It means leading by not trying to stand tallest, it means integrating ourselves with our peers, it means helping to make reparations whenever there is a hole in our community’s strong net, it means making time to go to one another’s shows and sporting games and listening to a friend when he needs help. It means each of us becoming better versions of ourselves daily, so that our community grows as a unit.
So, we must be ourselves, while acting with our community in mind. Our time at Williston may not span for much longer, and we may have a challenging road to college ahead of us, but we have the ability and the responsibility as the class of 2014 to set the entire community aflame with a passion for growth. Let us be the class that sets a tradition of leading by kindness.