By: Keerthana Velappan, EC Scholar and Honors College Junior
6 long days, 6 insightful cluster facilitators, 60 driven participants…and enough passion, inspiration, and memories to last a lifetime. Where do I even begin? I went into the week feeling anxious and considerably more nervous than excited as I questioned what I had gotten myself into. That changed rather quickly, though, upon my arrival at the Blowing Rock Conference Center. I was greeted by the excited crew of adults there: Maya, Greg, Mark, Wes, Katie, Chris, Laura, Jessica, Dan, and Dora. The first six individuals served as cluster facilitators, Laura and Jessica were the master planners, and Dan and Dora were the session co-leads, both from different universities. After an extensive introduction on the LeaderShape Institute and its goals, the sixty of us were divided into smaller “family clusters,” and I smiled as I recognized a few faces in my cluster. However, the icing on the cake was having Mark Rasdorf as my cluster facilitator. If you have not yet met Mark, the Assistant Director for the LGBTQ Resource Office on campus, I strongly suggest you drop by the aforementioned office in Brewster, if for no other reason than to meet this incredible kind-hearted individual!
Much of the week’s work was done in these designated family clusters, and I think I can speak for almost everyone when I say that the cluster time was what made the whole week. The clusters were a safe space, a supportive, judgment-free environment, where each of us could be ourselves and openly express our ideas and feelings. Every time I entered our special cluster room, for lack of better words, I literally felt safe and at ease. The overall goal of LeaderShape involved defining a personal vision – a commitment to changing or contributing to the world in a positive way – and then developing a blueprint for the action each of us will undertake upon our return to campus and beyond. While the actual Institute lasts only six days, the LeaderShape model is based on seven days, with the understanding that “Day 7” is “tomorrow and the rest of your lives.” Day 7 is when the work happens to ensure that these monumental visions become tangible realities. The six days in the actual curriculum have thought-provoking themes and activities in themselves, from “Building Community” (Day 1), “Challenging What Is, Looking to What Could Be” (Day 3), my personal favorite of “Living and Leading with Integrity” (Day 5), and perhaps the most important one, “Staying in Action” (Day 6).
Over the course of these six days, LeaderShape fostered strong friendships and intense personal growth. I was prompted to truthfully think about how I am living now and how that life corresponds with the future I want, not only for myself, but also for the generations to come. The tasks we performed most definitely tested me; I quickly learned to be comfortable being uncomfortable. For all sixty of us, LeaderShape reignited our passions and encouraged us to push for the things we believe in. It encouraged us to dream big and not settle. However, contrary to many leadership experiences, LeaderShape also provided us with the tools needed to put dreams into action and an ever-present support network…so here is to creating a just, caring, and thriving world where all lead with integrity and possess a healthy disregard for the impossible.