Guest post by Hannah Chin, senior, Bettendorf High School, Bettendorf, IA. Hannah is an active member of Raising Student Voice and Participation, an NASSP student program.
I strongly believe that the biggest mistake students make is not becoming involved in leadership organizations as they go through school.
Although there were opportunities for leadership in middle school, I never sought them out. Believing that my voice would not matter and lacking a bit of confidence, I opted to sit out of organizations where I could make a difference for my school or community.
When I reached high school, I made it a priority to become more involved and seek out organizations that would help me with leadership and public speaking.
I was fortunate enough to find several clubs that taught me how to use my strengths and improve my weaknesses.
I have often wondered what I could have accomplished if I had only had the confidence to take advantage of opportunities to lead when I was younger. Now as a high school student and knowing the benefits I have gained from taking on leadership roles in organizations, I want to encourage others, especially younger students, to start considering those same paths.
If I could write a letter to my younger self to express those ideas, it might look something like this:
Dear Middle School Hannah,
Congratulations on finally reaching your eighth grade year. The transition from middle school to high school is one of the greatest milestones of your educational career, and I want you to utilize every opportunity available to you so that you can be successful in the future.
I have noticed that you are the type of student who has excellent grades and work ethic, but you lack confidence in a classroom setting. You often sit in the second or third row during science in hopes of being overlooked to answer questions, even when you know the answers. Even though you have amazing ideas to improve school spirit during Homecoming, you choose not to participate on student council because you are too afraid to fail.
I want you to realize something. No matter how crazy you think your questions or ideas are, someone else is likely thinking the same thing. Why not try and speak up? What if your ideas could lead to something greater and improve someone else’s experience? You have some of the qualities of a great leader, Hannah. Instead of being quiet and dreaming of success, go for it! Like mom always says, “If you never try, you will never know.”
I know that sometimes being a leader means you will face challenges along the way. You might be criticized by peers for sharing ideas that others dislike. The choices you make might not be popular with everyone and that is okay. When someone makes the decision to become a leader, he or she takes every perspective into account and acts reasonably. Sometimes doing the right thing means making sacrifices for the greater good.
Your voice is the most powerful tool you have, Hannah. It is the only thing that defines you as a person every day and can never be taken away. The voice you have can affect the lives of so many people if you let it. For example, look at Oprah. She grew up in Kosciusko, MS, one of the smallest towns on the map. Do you think she became one of the world’s most influential women just sitting in the third row of her high school classes? Of course not! She used her voice and became a woman of grace, integrity, and compassion. Oprah has influenced many lives because she has the ability to listen and assist others in making positive changes to improve their lives. One voice might seem small at first, but gaining support and confidence will allow that voice to grow into something much bigger.
In closing, I want you to always remember that someone believes in you. No matter what goal you are trying to reach, someone will always be there to help you if you fall. Whether it is your mom, dad, a teacher, or a principal, know that you have support and your voice is valuable. Don’t be scared to take that leap of faith, Hannah, because I know that whatever you set your mind to accomplish can be achieved with the help of your voice.
Hannah Chin is a senior at Bettendorf High School in Bettendorf, IA. Jimmy Casas serves as the school’s principal, and he will join Patrick Larkin (Burlington Public Schools, MA) and Jason Markey (East Leyden High School, IL) speaking on “Leading Change in Schools” at Ignite ’15.