On Monday, myself and a dozen or so other graduating students from the Faculty of Arts and Science were invited to have lunch with Dean Meric Gertler at the Faculty Club as part of an award for student leadership on campus. Fancy lunch with the Dean? Definitely not my usual scouring-colloquia-for-leftover-free-pizza kind of day. Thus, it was strange and awesome for me to be a part of this. I’ve never really thought of myself as a “leader” on campus – or at least, not in the traditional sense.
That is to say, when I think of “leaders,” I think of hyperactive, face-painted, I’m-president-of-eight-clubs-and-fundraising-to-build-a-school-in-Africa kind of people from high school. Which is fantastic, but I’m hardly that. I make friends easily, but at my core, I’m an introvert. I’ve never run for student government. I haven’t raised thousands of dollars for charity. I’m just interested in a lot of things. I’m interested in people. So why was I selected for this award?
Leadership isn’t all pom-poms and elected positions. Leadership is having the courage to take academic and personal risks to see what you’re made of. It’s supporting other students for no other reason than that they’re human too and there is no compelling reason not to. It’s being proud of who and what you are, yet keeping a constant, vigilant, open mind to changing your beliefs. It’s being brave, in whatever form that happens to take for you. And believe it or not, the Faculty recognizes this.
The people I met at this lunch were not resume-builders, but community-builders. They were far less interested in handshakes than they were in getting to know what makes each of the rest of us tick. They were people who thought deeply about what it means to be in this place; how to make it human, valuable, challenging, and compassionate. And the Dean wanted nothing more than to listen to what we had to say. He began our conversation with the question, “So tell me… what kinds of things can I do to make this Faculty even better for students?” We spent nearly two hours excitedly telling him. And he replied with equal creativity, passion, and joy.
Students may think that in writing this, I’m coming from a privileged position. And I am, but not in any way different from any other student. I’ve found my voice and sometimes people even want to listen to it. It didn’t happen quickly. It wasn’t my goal. I just kept searching for more and more pieces of myself until everything started to make connections, and everything that I did led me to something newer and better and different. Somewhere between my high school graduation and this moment, everything changed and I became myself. Or, more of myself than I once was. Enough that I’m ready to evolve into the self I could be or want to be.
Quiet voices on campus? Just keep talking. Keep listening. You’ll become louder. More articulate. More free. Eventually there will be a place where the exchange will be as rewarding and eye-opening as you once hoped university would be. And in that place, they’ll even serve chocolate cake.