The Leaders of Tomorrow

In the Winter of 2013, I had submitted my application for the Leadership Advancement Scholarship at CMU.  Two weeks later I was one of 80 other students invited to compete for a spot in the 2013 cohort.  I came to campus on a gray winter day, took a tour of campus for the first time, and then was sent through a series of simulations and interviews with the other competitors.  Fortunately for me, I was selected to come to campus on this scholarship.

I remember competition day so vividly. I remember walking into Powers Hall for the first time, noticing the distinct smell that the old building fostered, and being overwhelmed by the number of people crammed into the lobby.  I remember bidding my parents good bye for the day, them wishing me luck, and then heading up the stairs towards the ballroom.  I remember hearing Dan’s speech for the first time.

“Raise your hands if you’ve been told that you’re the leaders of tomorrow; that’s bull shit. You’re the leaders of today.”

I remember the simulations: helium stick, gutter ball, and a survival activity, all of which required us all to show how we work and communicate in groups.

I remember the group interview. I remember thinking I was talking too much, and that the other two competitors probably thought my voice was annoying. I remember thinking Megan was intimidatingly beautiful, which is a funny thought now that we both got the scholarship.

I remember it all.

So when I was asked my freshmen year to help serve as a member of the committee to organize this day, I felt incredibly honored.  My first year on this Lead Team, I had the opportunity to facilitate the small-group activities to the competitors. I was also trusted with the duty of serving on the application review board, which meant analyzing over 200 applications and giving them a final grade with nine other staff and students.

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Dan Gaken, LI Director, delivering the introductory keynote and program overview.

After my freshmen year, I was brought onto the chair role of Competition Day, meaning I still serve on the application review board, but now work with two other chair people to organize the entire day. This means placing and training volunteer facilitators, working with departments on campus to ensure we have rooms and catering, and involving the freshmen class in a way that allows them to appropriately network with the potential new scholars.

Competition Day is truly like Christmas in the LI.  This past January was my second year in the chair position. I got to work with two of the most brilliant minds, Evie and Bellal, to host an incredible day.

Reviewing applications is empowering enough; seeing what these students do and how they impact their communities is so impressive.  But once the 80 are picked for competition, the energy they bring into the LI can be felt.  All 80 students are deserving of the award, really.  And they prove that by demonstrating exceptional communication skills. They are aware and just, and try their best to bring their best selves to the plate. Each time, it makes me relive my competition experience all over again.

It’s an honor to serve the LI in this way; I hope that the work I do helps bring in the best next handful of students the nation has to offer.  I hope that with each application review and each facilitator placed that our selections only make the program better and better.

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Myself, Evie, and Bellal, the 2016 Competition Day Chairs

#SAEHatesMe

This past year has been a big one for me and SAE.  After being initiated into Michigan Delta Omega’s chapter of ΣΑΕ last fall, I have been elected to the role of Member Educator. Within this role, I am responsible for understanding curriculum set by our National Educators and organizing different workshops and meetings that ensure every active brother of the chapter is meeting these national expectations.  It’s called the True Gentleman Initiative. This Initiative replaces a pledge process, a model used by many other greek organizations, and instead incorporates lifelong learning throughout each members time in the fraternity.  The curriculum varies depending on age of the brother, but for the most part it can be completed as an entire chapter.

In this position I work closely with our President, Vice President, Diversity Chair, Newly initiated class of brothers, and CMU’s Interfraternity Council Educator.

A big part of this position is ensuring that newly initiated brother classes acclimate to the fraternity and learn the basics so they can build a firm understanding of our values and operations. I do this through facilitating meetings where we talk about different aspects of the fraternity, including national and local history, leadership opportunities, and campus involvements.

Greek life at CMU is incredibly valuable. The way this University encourages each chapter to collaborate and do good for the community is outstanding. Greek Week, a competition between chapters that happens each spring, is one of CMU’s most impressive and constant philanthropic events ever.  Between each organization, our greek communities raised 50,000+ Dollars for “Angel Wings,” a nonprofit that raises awareness for and supports families that are battling breast cancer.  Being a part of a community that wants to make positive impact is incredibly empowering, and I hope to continue being an integral part of that here at CMU.  Our chapter came in second overall for Greek Week in 2015, was voted best chapter on campus in 2013 by our campus newspaper, “cmlife”, and has had one member spotlighted as “Greek of the Week” since that recognition piece began last fall (it was me!! I’m truly just a lucky guy).

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Me, Tess of Phi Sigma Sigma, and Austin, my Big Brother before a football game.

But it truly isn’t all fun and games.

#SAEHatesMe

The biggest challenge of being a part of Sigma Alpha Epsilon has been the negative attention brought on us by chapters across the nation. In less than a year of being an active brother, incidents like the Oklahoma Racist Chant and other stories became prevalent parts of my daily conversations. I had serious doubts about remaining a part of this organization, because I struggled to justify labeling myself amongst these men I never met. I struggled to justify being a part of something that, in some places, held racist beliefs. While I knew that the climate of ΣΑΕ at CMU was very different than that in Oklahoma, it pained me anyhow.  How do we appropriately react as a chapter? How do I explain this to my friends and coworkers who are a part of the black community? How do I live with myself knowing that the letters SAE will only ever be a synonym for racism to hundreds of thousands of people?

After lengthy conversations with our diversity chair, who is one of my best friends, brothers, and most reliable confidants, we concluded that we have to stay and fight for change.  We agreed to remain in the fraternity knowing that the best we could do is continue to encourage our brothers at CMU about how to enter an inclusive mindset. It’s been about a year since the incident, but I’m proud of what we’re accomplished so far.  We’ve incorporated diversity lessons into chapter meeting, encouraged involvement and support to the NPHC Inc., and most importantly, opened the conversation of race and privilege in a way that all of our brothers can participate in.  We didn’t want to just say that racism isn’t happening on our campus, we wanted to make sure it was obsolete.

So shout out to Bellal for being so encouraging and wise; your help has been so valued.  And thank you to our chapter, who has responded so well to our plans. This is an ongoing effort; one that can feel tiring and hopeless at times. It starts with acknowledging the problem for what it is. It tarts by having the conversations people typically avoid. And hopefully, with continued effort, it will end.

 

TWENTY FOURTEEN

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We follow her through a maze of tables and chairs, as she swiftly guides us to a booth near a corner of the restaurant; it’s almost hard to keep up, especially since this place is packed. It felt like ages as we waited at the door, and my legs are coming out of their fossilization with each stride; looking back, it could only have been a handful of minutes. As she begins to lay out placemats and menu cards, my family scoots into the booth.  Our coats are peeling off as she welcome us, introduces herself, and inquires drink orders.  Before darting off, she asks if we are ready to get started.  Abruptly, my dad says replies with a solid yes.  She smiles, and is off in the blink of an eye.

We are at BD’s Mongolian grill, and it’s New Years Eve; it’s tradition.  BD’s puts you in total control of your meal. With an empty bowl, you head through a line, similar to buffet style restaurants; however, everything is still raw.  Chicken, steak, noodles, shrimp, every vegetable imaginable- all raw!  Once you fill your bowl as desired, you head over to the grill, where a handful of chefs cook the contents of your thoughtful choosing.

Like I mentioned, dinner at BD’s has been a tradition of my family’s for years; that is, until this year. Our family is growing older, so some of our traditions are becoming a bit harder to do.  It’s mostly because of conflicting work schedules.  Everyone’ is being pulled in too many directions, and I’m not entirely ok with it.

That being said; I have a few demands for 2014.

I want my concentration back.  Ever since coming to college, I have been erratic with my decision making;this stems from my newfound disconnect from concentration. Even now, I am struggling to write sentences without the temptation of reopening my ‘Facebook’ tab that I have exited out of at least four times since starting this post.  My focus, used to be (in my opinion) unparalleled.  I could knock out homework assignment after homework assignment, run further and further every day, and more.  My discipline is lost, hidden under a pile of all the miscellaneous extracurricular of my first college semester. My plan of attack is this: sort through that pile.  Participate in activities that I know I will enjoy, take classes I will enjoy thoroughly, and commit.  The difference between my mind set now and then, is that last semester I wanted to try it all. This semester I want to try things I know that I will follow all the way through with.  I want to concentrate on what is important and interesting to me.  I want to focus.

Secondly, I want to get out.  I have this gut feeling that tells me I need to go see the world.  Nothing is in my way!  For more details on this goal, please read my “BE Intrepid Post.

I need my family.  The Walter household is my favorite place on this planet; especially when it’s filled with the five of us.  As noted in my foreword, my family is growing too busy and too distant for family time.  I live 100 miles away from home and my oldest brother, Patrick, lives about eighty miles away as well.  My older brother, Michael, lives at home, but spends a majority of his time at Oakland University, or work.  2013 kind of pushed us all in different directions, but 2014 will fix that.  This year is the year we perfect our balance of being separated and being together.

I’ve always been willing to lend my ears and advice. I’ve always been one to share my knowledge in multiple areas.  I take pride knowing that I’ve also always been one to share my true and honest self.  This year, however, I plan to share more of my writing.  I have made attempts at journaling in the past, and all have failed.  I will integrate my goal to focus with this goal. I like this idea, because writing has always been something that comes somewhat naturally to me.  I found solace through journaling in the past, and hope to rediscover it. With this blog, I hope to further extend my ears, advice, knowledge, and true self through the written word.

This year, I will excel at becoming a mentor. It will be my second year facilitating leadership curriculum at MASC/MAHS’s leadership camp, my first semester facilitating leadership curriculum with CMU students through a program called Alpha Leadership, my second semester working with the Leadership Institute, and (hopefully) my first experience with Leadershape.  In addition, I will be inheriting my own mentee through LAS. Basing myself off of last year, I recognize that I have people who look up to me.  Knowing that there are students out there who look at me the way I used to look at my mentors, in all reality, is one of my most treasured possessions.  I maintain this by setting an example that I used to try and emulate, myself.  However, this year, I will to do more for those who look up to me.  I will reach out to them in ways I haven’t exercised before; letters, phone calls, lunch meetings and more.  2013 introduced me to many people who now look up to me; 2014 becomes the year I give them reason to believe in me the way I believe in all of them.

Although my family didn’t go to BD’s this past New Year’s Eve, I intend to treat every day of 2014 like I’m in that restaurant.  I will not sit around and wait as I spout my wishes at the new year; but instead, I will get out of my chair and take control out of these next 8765.81 hours. With concentration, I will hand-craft a year full of family, writing, and mentoring.

Much love,

David

Of course, a song to accompany this post:

Define it: “Leadership.”

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Each passing day here at Central is a blessing, enhanced by involvement with my Leader Advancement Scholar Cohort.  The benefits we experience by collaborating with each other, working with the LI administrative staff, and taking classes together have been boundless.  To add to the list of benefits, I feel lucky and honored to have been able to meet with Central Michigan’s President.

President Ross came to our LDR 100 class, giving us his own definition

of leadership.  He illustrated his family life to us, and how he had to work incredibly hard to make it to where he is today.  President Ross took strides in life that the majority of his family did not; because of this, he landed administrative roles at college campuses across the country.  He owes his accomplishments to his value for education.  He stressed that his handwork in school propelled him to success.

After he shared with us his own leadership story, President Ross gave us the floor.  He asked us questions on why we chose Central Michigan University, what we plan to major in, where we are from, and how we define leadership.  A common response to “Why CMU?” was “LAS.”  This was powerful, knowing that the majority of us are here for the same reason.  Knowing that we have that connecting-factor felt good.  Hearing people in my class honestly share their definition of leadership was even more powerful.  People shed light on their personalities and desires with each individual answer, creating a vulnerability that I really appreciated.  Each answer was different, as there is no definite answer for “what is leadership,” but a common theme was “bettering yourself as well as the lives around you.”

Knowing that there is no concrete definition of leadership is empowering.  It allows a creative freedom for each leader in my cohort, including myself. I rose my hand and answered: “Leadership is always moving forward”  (You can read more about why I believe that here).  President Ross listened to my explanation, and simply replied with a quote:

 “Even if you’re on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there.”

                 – Will Rodgers

I took this quote as an agreement with my definition, and yet, it hit me; not only is important to define leadership in accordance with my beliefs, but also, to keep redefining leadership as life progresses.  I plan to take the lessons from meeting with President Ross, and continuously adapt and understand different definitions of leadership.

A song to accompany this post:

A Wild Welcome

I was at college.

wasn’t home. 

 

I had set up shop in my room, ate dinner with my roommate, and kissed my parents goodbye in a matter of hours; I felt painfully out of place as Gary and Luanne welcomed us to our new home. Sitting in the LI room, it hit me. There’s no turning back. I was excited. I was tired. I was ready. I was overwhelmed.  All of a sudden, and inexplicably, a sense of pride set in. In this moment, I experienced the extremes of “mixed-emotions.”

That night, we walked to the S.A.C to see the comedians. I clung to my friend, Eliza, the entire walk there. Eliza and I are on a college group together called the College Volunteer Facilitator Corps. We work to promote student leadership through camps and workshops yearlong. Eliza and I talked about how excited we were, how nervous we were, and tried to meet new people along our hike across campus; we even tried convincing people that we were related..

Noting can compare to how thrilling it was to stand in the gymnasium where the comedians performed. I had heard that the Safari program was large, but as I stood in the sea of people that flooded the gymnasium, I could feel an aura of importance. There were participants from wall-to-wall. There were over one hundred volunteer staff members. The numbers were crazy. I was bewildered. I cannot sufficiently stress in words the empowerment I felt, solely due to me standing in a room whipping with excitement and nerves. There were easily a hundred other people in that room experiencing the same sensation I had been experiencing, and knowing that is what really got me.

After the comedians performed, we broke off into our safari groups. I was a weasel. Yup. A weasel. We met briefly outside to meet each other and then headed right home.

I walked back to Barnes hall with a girl I had met in my Weasel group. We chatted about where we were from and what we were studying. We discovered we shared a friend, and then separated to our different Halls. The streetlights and moon illuminated the campus the entire way back. It was almost a magical feeling, campus at night. There was a light bustle, but an overall mystic quietness remained; the kind of quietness that warms your heart.

The week progressed at a rapid rate, and the weasel’s melded together almost as rapidly. I became rather close with two of the guys in my group. We came from similar places of Michigan, and knew a handful of the same people. Our group handled most of the challenges thrown our way with a certain weasel-finesse. We rarely were stumped, because we took challenges head on and with pride. Particularly, the trust fall activity had pretty high attention all week. People were worried and nervous, but not a single person in the weasel group even stuttered when it was our turn to catch each other.

Hearing the term “servant leadership” brings my principal to mind. Dave Jackson preached servant leadership in our high school. He set his example be being personable, reaching out to students in order to help them find success, and made an effort to personally aid and commend each student in a building of 2,000. Furthermore, he always volunteered to pick up after the Horses in our homecoming parade. So to me, leadership is service; which is exactly why I enjoyed the service projects employed by Safari. Turning leadership into service, whether it is cleaning up trash on a part of campus, or stuffing boxes for the military, is an effective way to help the greater good. I was part of a team whose duty was to clean the disc-golf course. Not only did it feel good to be helping out around campus, but it was also a time to just casually talk with people from all different groups we worked to better our new community, we built better connections between each other.

One speaker I truly gained knowledge from was Ed Gerety. He was in the breakout sessions, and actually spoke in Powers Hall, which gave me a sense of familiarity and comfort. Ed Gerety spoke on the importance of visualization and gratitude. These are two concepts that I believe in and love learning new tactics about. He suggested that we make dream-boards, which essentially are posters, that map out every big goal and dream you’ve ever had on them through photographs and texts. He also taught us how to emphasize the importance of our goals through our wording. Instead of saying, “I want to be a successful Computer Engineer,” it is more powerful to say something along the lines of “I will be an experienced computer engineer with background knowledge from internships across the country and the globe, and finally work for Apple Inc. as a lead Software and Computer developer by the time I’m thirty.” By being detailed, I am enabled to think critically about what it is exactly that I want. And by knowing the specifics, I am compelled to take the proper steps to make it to mygoals.

Every night of Safari, I came back to Barnes Hall. In Barnes, I am surrounded by some of the state’s best leaders, who also share in my experience as a Leadership Advancement Scholar. Honestly, my favorite part of safari was getting to know my LAS cohort by talking to them all each night. I feel comfortable and safe around this group of people, and in fact, I can’t imagine my life without most of them, already!

Safari came to an end, but the feeling I felt that first day still burns: I’m still overwhelmed by this truly welcoming and friendly campus.  I still feel ready for new obstacles.  I’m still easily excited by classes, campus, friends, and everything else.  Finally, I still feel that sense of pride… but now I know where that sensation set in: it was the moment I realized I am now a Chippewa.

I’m at college.

I’m at Central.

I’m home.

A song to accompany my feelings while writing this post: