A new academic year may mean a fresh start with new attitudes, resolutions and opportunities down the road. Anyone who was at last week’s Club Rally would have recognized the madness involved in the process of choosing appropriate extracurricular activities. While on one hand, it is a positive sign that students are willing and bold enough to let their passions take them beyond the classroom, we must challenge our perception and definition of campus leadership. Leadership as an inherent quality cannot be trivialized by the overemphasized definition that thrives within the boundaries of tangible board positions.
Serving as the President of a club or the Captain of a team requires sacrifice, hard work and dedication. It is rather commendable for students who simultaneously deal with academics to still manage to save time for their passions and thrive in those pursuits. Obtaining a leadership position is not only good for the students already involved, but also serves as inspiration for other aspiring students.
It is equally significant, however, that we do not merely define the quality of leadership by certain positions and statuses. Everyone at Andover has the potential to become a leader by lending an ear and showing commitment to their own questions, beliefs and interests. Thus, as students put conscientious effort into the activities they are passionate about, they develop skills and knowledge in those areas of interest. In addition, students’ sense of commitment to their causes can also move and draw their peers to them without a source of external validation such as club positions.
The act of restricting the meaning of leadership to positions can also lead down a dangerous road. Since board positions are only accessible to a few students in each club, this idea of leadership may be determined only by social capital and end up getting distanced from the majority of other students who either have membership or not. If leadership loses its value as an inherent quality and rather takes on a solely materialistic meaning, the idea of leadership may turn into an elite and normative one. When students are unable to conform to this normative meaning of leadership, students may become disillusioned and therefore lose their interest in getting involved with the extracurricular in the first place.
Instead of confining leadership to positions held within our community, we should shift the meaning from “being above” to “being among” and from “leading” to “working” for the well-being of those around. There are many different opportunities to become leaders that do not come with status markers. Acts of service such as providing moral support to another student during a time of great need, raising awareness on a topic or situation that was previously unknown to or misunderstood by others, listening to the concerns of new students and giving them helpful advice can also qualify as aspects of meaningful leadership. If the community can stay true to a holistic understanding of leadership, we can truly connect with those around us and work together as a communal body on aspects of our campus that need improvement.
Reevaluating the approach that we take when we discuss campus leadership will help us uphold an inclusive, encouraging and healthy image of leadership, which ultimately is beneficial for the Andover community as a whole. While it can be challenging for individual students to find ways to get involved, another challenge lies in embracing leadership as a much broader concept that cannot be contained within the confines of club positions.
_Cem Vardar is a two-year Senior from Seyhan Adana, Turkey._