by Grant Nelson
As my ASB cohorts and I sat in the shade of a tall oak tree, we all shared what student leadership meant to us as individuals. We communicated in the well-known circle any organized group has seen before and wore the casual summer attire that would apply to any high school students ready for school to begin come a week or so. "I believe student leadership is being a good role model in your school," one student replies. "I believe student leadership is doing the right thing, and having people look up to you," another remarks. "I think student leadership has to do with being a trustworthy person, one that others can depend on," a third adds.
These are all true, but how then can one define what a student leader truly is if there are so many definitions? Well, I believe there are a few main qualities every student leader needs, and also have identified some of the reoccurring themes I have seen in the words student leadership, words that seem to gain recognition as the years progress.
Student leadership is quite simply what it sounds like; leadership on a student level. Why is this an important characteristic for a school to have? Because each school, whether small or large, has similar attributes to those of a community. Within the school are hundreds to thousands of students, all from different backgrounds, with different beliefs, different values, and different abilities, all coming together with different focuses in life. In most cases, these students all share one building, and many of them also share one goal, and that goal is to become accepted.
No student wants to go to school, whether elementary, junior high, middle school, or high school, and be rejected, finding that she doesn't fit into "the crowd" as the person she is. This is a prime instance of where student leaders can step into action. If someone could approach a new student and just give him a handshake or a high-five, saying something like, "Hey, how are ya? My name is Greg, What's yours?" " Oh, Hi, Matt, nice to meet you. Well, I'm glad you are here at this school, and hopefully I'll see ya around." If an unsure student can realize that he or she can be himself or herself and be accepted at school, then this student has already taken the first and hardest step of fitting into a community, and that is being accepted for who one is, instead of being accepted for who one is trying to be.
Above, Greg simply introduced himself, taking seconds out of his day to go out of his way to say "hi" to someone new. For Greg, a senior, and a part of the Associated Student Body (ASB), it was easy, and he actually did the same for with a few other students. For Matt, however, it was his first day of school as a freshman. Matt was nervous about attending high school but is already feeling better because an upperclassman took time to say hello. Simple gestures of friendliness and a sincere heart for people are some of the qualities respected student leaders have.
Through ASB, leadership classes, and similar courses, students are being taught to give time for others, which is another characteristic I believe student leaders need; the humility to give oneself for someone else. Whether one gives one's time, an ear to listen, a shoulder to lean on, or just a handshake, showing someone that they are important enough to get to know is showing them that they matter.
Are the only student leaders in high schools today the ones who are in ASB or the ones enrolled in a leadership class? No, in fact, some of the students I see demonstrating the leadership characteristics I value most don't even know that they are leading. These students aren't necessarily the ones up at the podium for all the assemblies or the ones leading the crowd cheers. These students are the ones you may find talking in the library to a student who feels frustrated with his life, or having a conversation in the parking lot with a student that had a bad day. These few students are making a serious positive impact on those who need help the most. Making a positive impact on a group of people is one thing, but sitting down with an individual, listening to that person, and showing him that you care is what really changes lives.
I have noticed one main truth about student leadership throughout my high school experience. This truth is that every student who wants to make a difference in his or her school must be willing to take action. Talking about the student who is eating alone a few tables across from you does not comfort him. Talking about the girl that gets made fun of in science class will not help her situation. Many of today's student leaders I have met understand this virtue, and I just hope that over time more students catch on. It is only then that the halls of our schools will be filled with joy, that there will be no student at school who feels alone, and that the school community will be able to achieve true greatness.
About the author
Grant Nelson is Associated Student Body President at Mount Si High School, in Snoqualmie, Washington. He is also vice president of the Washington Association of Student Councils (WASC) board, and WASC rep for the Washington State Learning First Alliance (WSLFA).
© August 2003
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