When I was in my senior year of high school, I wrote my college application essay about leadership. It was an alright essay, not necessarily life changing for anyone involved, but obviously it did all that it needed to do to get me where I am today. At this point in my life, I was probably not unlike the majority of high school soon-to-be-grads: filled with more ambition than I had experience. Reading back through my essay, this showed. I wrote loftily of wanting to reflect the beauty in this world, and how my passion for hands-on learning and community service made me a reflection of my community. Pretty similar to what I write today. But the language that I used was vague, and I didn’t have any examples of how I actually wanted to go forward and do with my time. I knew that I valued leadership, but I had no idea what it looked like.
Through the experiences that the SPA Leadership has afforded me, both in the programing as well as in the support that I have received to go off-script and take time off of school, I’ve found a clearer image of what that leadership can look like for me. I’ve been given the skills to try a large variety of internships, jobs, and skills — and through the process of elimination, identify my strengths and priorities to piece together my own best fit. It was actually in my sophomore year social action project when I realized that I very much valued the process-based work of doing research, meeting with people to discuss their stories, and organizing those stories in an impactful way to start a conversation. I didn’t find the language to express this in terms of a career until I had a conversation with my supervisor at Democracy Now! about these values, and she suggested I lean into multimedia activism and storytelling. Every activity that I participated in, in and outside of school, continues to be a piece of the puzzle that I am using to build my own vision of leadership.
This has continuously pushed me to challenge myself in new realms, and the more that I have discovered about myself, the more that I have developed new and useful skills that have enhance my practical understanding of leadership. In leadership, we have learned that it is important to identify gaps in the world where there is the opportunity to connect two dots in order to make real change. In different situation, these gaps looked very different. In my experience as Communications Coordinator in the SPA Steering Committee, that gap looked like an accessible and cheaper alternative to print newsletters — so I created a website. In my position as a book editor for George Shepherd, his writings were in a messy folder and written in the 90s, so I made electronic copies and did research to complement and challenge the writing with current data and events. In my position as a producer for Moondogs, we initially had zero money to pay our cast and crew, so I peer-to-peer fundraised over $15,000 dollars in the first month so that we could pay everyone fairly. In each of these experiences, I not only fixed problems and made the work output better than it had been, but I also developed new skills and critically approached new techniques.
Now that I am graduating, I am still hesitant to say that I know exactly what my leadership looks like and how it will play out in my life from here on out. I am certain that there are many more problems and tasks that will continue to challenge my skills and develop new facets of my professional identity, but I think that this, too, is a leadership strength. Learning to be a leader isn’t about learning about a specific job or goal, but rather about appreciating the process of learning and problem-solving to improve both yourself and your mission. I hope that there are many leadership lessons in my future, and my time in college and in the SPA Leadership program has helped me see what those lessons can look like and taught me to seek them out.