A popular facilitation tool used in leadership curriculum is to ask “In one word, how would you describe how you’re feeling right now?”  After my weekend in Cheboygan, MI, I have to pick “frozen.”  The temperatures were devilishly low, scraping levels of the thermometer, before then, unknown me. Snow and ice coated streets and buildings, hiding any bit of color besides white and gray.  Simply standing by a window would send shivers down my back.

So why did I subject myself to these conditions? Contrary to what you might believe, I was not there to practice the Eskimo way of life, but instead, to volunteer with the CMU Leadership Institute’s K-12 program.  The LI organizes leadership days with elementary, middle, and high schools across the country.  Each program runs a little differently, but the main take-aways are similar: leadership is rooted in communication, can be practiced and conditioned by anyone, and can be refreshing.

At Cheboygan, a group of us from CMU’s LI worked with student council, honor society, and leadership class students from Cheboygan Area High School.  With this small group, we conducted a simulation called Start Power, that lead to a discussion on working towards inclusion in their high school and how they, as student leaders, can do a better job.

These students were then given a crash course on facilitating their own activities and conversations before students from other schools in the area came to participate in a leadership day led by them.  The students I got to work with showed outstanding strength and passion for bettering themselves in order to better their community.  It was inspiring to see their creativity come through in their facilitation styles and then their sincerity during the conversational pieces.

This, of course, was not my first visit to Cheboygan Area High School. My roommate is an alumnus, and he has dragged me there countless times at this point.  He found a passion for leadership and built a sense of identity with the guidance of role models before him.  Teachers, coaches, and upperclassmen all played a role in his success, as much as he plays a role in the current students’s lives.  These students are two to three years younger than he, and still Ian relates, motivates, and challenges them on a personal level.  He, in his own way, is demonstrating why it is important to care about personal development.  Anyone who stepped foot in that gymnasium could see that the senior boys of Cheboygan Area High School’s student council want to impress upon their younger classmates why it’s important to care, as well.

The day ran as expected.  I often leave an experience like this feeling inspired and grateful, but today was a little different.  I was tracing the legacy of leadership as it is passed down in this northern Michigan school.  From teacher to coach to student to friend, it is visible that a piece of this school’s community is earnestly ambitious, and it’s reaching out to the rest.

I love Cheboygan.

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