Hands-On Leadership Development at the Arizona State Summit

State Summits offer National Honor Society (NHS) and National Junior Honor Society (NJHS) members hands-on experiential leadership development. They are designed to unlock the potential of participating students by providing a shared space to learn, grow, and explore ideas together. We asked students to provide their own report of the Arizona State Summit, which took place on September 12, 2019. This is the first in a series of three firsthand blog post accounts.


On September 12, I and 10 others from my school attended the Arizona State Summit, an NHS-sponsored event that took place on Arizona State University’s Tempe campus. The scale of the NHS presence in Arizona was impressive, with hundreds attending from all over the state. I heard many different people speak throughout the event. Almost every one of them had something interesting to offer—whether I agreed exactly with what they were saying or not, they offered a contrasting perspective to my own. If I had to choose one idea to take with me from the Arizona State Summit, it would be that leadership can mean many different things, and there are truly no wrong answers besides the most obvious exceptions. More on this later.

As I walked in, I was given a notebook and pen. After breakfast, the “Welcome & Introduction” portion began. There, I was treated to a pleasant surprise: contrary to the list of rules I had received, cell phones were allowed and actually encouraged. This began with a website called Wooclap. A simple but universal question was displayed on the projected screens in front of me:

“What drives you to succeed? What makes you want to get up in the morning?”

By entering a short URL on my phone, I was able to enter a response, which was “self-improvement” in my case. Once I submitted it, I was prompted to vote for other submissions. This was one of the first big learning moments for me that day. Because the most voted for responses showed up at the top of the list, I could literally see what motivated others the most. Along with this, I was able to see the wide variety of answers too—these answers ranged from goals of self and global/societal improvement to family, friends, and even food. Prior to this, it had never crossed my mind that the forces that motivate me may be drastically different from someone else.

After this, everyone was sent away from the Arizona Ballroom to six smaller rooms just down the hall. In these rooms, I gathered with students from all different schools and backgrounds. Groups naturally formed around the tables placed within the room, and we started the first activity. We were given some rules for discussion:

“Express Yourself. Respect Each Other. Be Vulnerable. Listen. Be Honest.”

These five rules would lay the foundation for maintaining respectful and productive conversation throughout the day. Next, I listened as every single person in the room said their name and one thing about themselves. The next activity, called “Exploring Leadership,” really got interesting for me. We wrote down different keywords and phrases related to leadership that resonated with us, then picked five of these to share. Mine were:

“Bravery, Listening, Humble, Dedicated, Initiative.”

Leadership can mean many different things to different people. Once everyone had shared, I noticed a pattern. After each person shared their five keywords and phrases, they would explain why and how they applied to their own leadership. What this displayed was fascinating: These five keywords consistently applied to their own personal strengths and ideals as a leader. For example, the word that resonated the most with me was “bravery,” because I believe my greatest asset as a leader is my willingness to be wrong, take the backlash, and then change. Also, this clearly showed the many styles of leadership that differed from person to person.

Michael Buerger (center) with other students at the Arizona State Summit.

There were many more activities following this: one about how we understand failure and success (and how they are closely related); one using balloons to demonstrate some key ideas related to time management and responsibility, like how taking on too much can be detrimental; and even an activity where we built bridges using Legos to gain insight on networking and social structure. However, the activity that stood out to me the most was simply called “Visionary.” In this activity, every person wrote down a change they would make to the world, like getting rid of poverty or making sure every person has access to clean water. On the walls in the room, three signs were placed with the following text:

Impossible. Improbable. Inevitable.

We were asked to keep our world change in mind and walk to the relevant sign. What this meant was that those who believed that their world change was impossible in the near future, those who believed it was improbable in the near future, and those who believed it was inevitable in the near future would group around the respective sign. Over half of the group ended up at the “impossible” sign, close to half of the group ended up at the “improbable” sign, but only two or three people ended up at the “inevitable” sign. We discussed this, and the general consensus was that most of the world changes we wrote down were just never going to happen.

However, this changed when the speaker in our room brought up the idea of visionaries and a visionary attitude. Modern advancements in fields like technology and medicine were simply unimaginable to most in the past. Who could have even dreamt that we would all be connected by tiny wireless electronic devices in our pockets? Who would have even wondered if we would one day be able to treat and even cure horrible diseases like Ebola, malaria, and even cancer? Well actually, visionaries did. After this was discussed further, many in the room stayed at their original signs, but a large and significant group shifted—and the “impossible” section of the room was no longer the majority.

Finally, everyone returned to the Arizona Ballroom and another round of Wooclap commenced, and then it was over. The day was done. I was tired and glad the event was over, but at the same time, I was sad to leave my new friends behind.

In conclusion, I learned two primary things from Arizona State Summit. Firstly, I learned that every person is motivated differently, that every person drives themselves by different means. This is an important take for me as I hope to be able to motivate and inspire others more effectively from this point on, both as a leader and as a friend. Secondly, I now truly understand how important attitude is for change and happiness on both a personal and global/societal level. I already have started to realize the detriment of my naturally negative attitude, and I am now actively working to change this. I aspire to drastically improve on both my attitude and leadership skills and become an optimistic leader as soon as possible.

Michael Buerger is a student at The Gary K. Herberger Young Scholars Academy.

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