Op-Eds Opinion

What Defines a Leader?

Peer Connection at my high school is a student association that can be described with several words, except for the two within its name. The ambition to be accepted into this distinguished society was based on a misleading experience my first day freshman year.

Liz Tomanio
Guest Writer





The Student File Photo
The Student File Photo

Peer Connection at my high school is a student association that can be described with several words, except for the two within its name. The ambition to be accepted into this distinguished society was based on a misleading experience my first day freshman year. 

A friendly girl in an orange T-shirt helped me open my locker. I thought to myself, “I could do this for another doe-eyed freshman.” The longer I was in this highly revered group however, the clearer it became – a rather ironic realization. We never really did connect with our peers. Our club showcased how well we were assimilating freshmen into their new environment. 

In reality, we provided trivial, showy services followed by self-appreciative, exclusive get-togethers for ourselves. Yes, I belonged to a group whose main purpose and philosophy got lost in translation, instead instilling superficial leadership, which had ulterior motives and was self-congratulatory. I’m not proud. 

Certainly, I understand now after joining student government and National Honor Societies alike that leadership is intended to have significant, long-term impacts. Leadership is not always wrapped in the same paper or appears within an organized group. Good leadership is ongoing, selfless, humble and has only one intention – to provide service to others.

When I got settled on this campus, the leadership opportunities felt similar to my friends in orange back home, unnatural. I did not feel comfortable applying to be an NSO or SOAR leader. It seemed as if the same group of individuals was involved in each of these programs, as if the committees which select students to be in these groups picked from the same pool of applicants. This is not to discredit these experiences, because for some, they are helpful in building confidence, leadership and friendship as well as all of the lovely moments of life written in a Hallmark card sitting on a shelf in Wal-Mart.

Well, that is not entirely fair, but I have never been the type of person to belong to only one group of people and sit in only one location in the Union with these same individuals at the noon hour lunch break. This is the same group who cheered loudly on the green dressed in their Sunday best to greet me on my first awkward, painful day of orientation. 

It is not a good or bad way to be. I am pleased for those who have found their niche, but it can be discouraging for a person on the outside looking in. Thus, in my three years here, I never took on a leadership role, except to be captain of the women’s cross country team in 2013. 

Perhaps I short-sided myself, bit off my own nose to spite my face, but I never felt as if I could or wanted to belong to these leadership groups. Is this really what leadership is, or has it become a less meaningful, watered-down version that we have been conditioned to accept?

I might sound bitter – even narrow-minded, but in an attempt to gain clarification as to why I feel strongly that these leadership programs on campus lack a certain “je ne sais quoi,” I visited the Springfield College Archives. 

I immersed myself in the college’s history and stumbled on a student-led program called “The Pleasant Hour.” During this hour, boys 10 and up came to the college and watched a movie with the students. 

This simple program is a testimony to authentic leadership in the community, demonstrating how this value was ingrained as a definitive piece in students’ lives at Springfield. Now, we have the Partners Program, where students have a partner from a Springfield public school that they work with on their studies and bring to the dining hall for dinner as their guest. This is a meaningful program that will have a lasting impact.

On October 30, 1919, The Springfield Student published a short piece of punchy writing, “Love it or Leave it.” The student writer contemplated how his fellow students were building the foundation of ideals and traditions for the future. The writer asked, “Who is the bigger man, the one who lives on the traditions of the past, or the man who makes his work and his life an example for others to follow?” 

This question resonates with me, holding truth still because it is a timeless reflection on leadership. I have asked myself a similar question: Is a person only capable of upholding a singular, central value, of being an athlete, an academic, an artist or a leader? 

It is customary for a student to be arbitrarily assigned to one of these categories on campus. For those rare students who fall into more than one category, why are they not the example to follow? The writer then asked the reader to consider, “Is my life at Springfield one of which future generations can be proud?” Launching into the assumption that the answer was no, the student had two options: “change it” or “get out.”

Writing such as this, passionate and unstoppable on its quest to righteousness, gives me courage to speak earnestly. My suspicions are not groundless. Would not every student want to graduate from an institution which stood for a value leading ultimately to higher thinking and greater, more affirmative action with far-reaching ripples? It surpasses academic or athletic excellence, leadership service or being a “good person.” It could be too much to ask for, too high a standard, too unreasonable a request, or perhaps our institution is already producing students of this quality and nature and I am too blind to see it. Regardless, the disconnection can still be felt.

Two Physician Assistant students who were selected to be 2014 NSO leaders were forced to resign from their position this spring. They could not attend a weekend retreat of bonding with other NSO leaders due to a graduate level exam the following week that they needed to prepare for. They had attempted compromise, but were denied. 

At the same time, athletes and individuals involved in the play production were allowed full absence. These exceptions illustrate a double standard and were resolutely decided upon with no backlash.

In 1905 the college’s football team won against Yale in New Haven, Conn. After the game, the team went to a restaurant for dinner, but the hotel declined to serve one of the teammates, an African American player, Robert P. Hamlin. Hamlin’s teammates left the hotel, outraged. 

The owner followed the team and arranged to have the entire team served in the banquet hall. More significant conflicts were fought then, yet unanimously students understood what action was just. This team’s actions were leadership in its purest, most unmitigated form.  

It does not require a retreat or weird abbreviation symbolizing a formal group to recognize that this is the face of honest, altruistic leadership. Selfless programs similar to “The Pleasant Hour” should be reintegrated into campus life. Students should not be afraid to question or be critical of their peers, as well as their own development as leaders because there was no logical reason for those Physician Assistants to be punished for trying to be good students. 

For NSO and SOAR, diversity needs to be embraced and intentions clarified in order for these programs to be genuinely welcoming and valuable. The leaders should reflect the diversity we all seek to have on this campus and have a clear purpose and motive for their program, to build leadership, not only because it is an integral life skill, but because it is in our college’s mission. 

So I ask you to consider, what do you contribute to Springfield College?

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