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Blog #10 Scholarship, Leadership, Service, and Character: More than just NHS Pillars

Scholarship, Leadership, Service, and Character:

More than just NHS Pillars

I wanted to share the text of my NHS Induction speech with you as a part of my blog.  I believe there are words here that will also pertain to students and parents not in attendance at the induction.  As the attributes of scholarship, leadership, service, and character are important for each of us in our growth and development and on our journeys to becoming Life Ready, I hope a few of my words will both inspire and challenge you to be the best version of yourself.

“Good Evening.  I want to send a special welcome to all of our fine students being honored here tonight.  This is not about one moment in time or one moment of greatness, but a series of sacrifices, grit, positive choices, and the right decisions you made along the way--both academically but also concerning your character.  This is a wonderful opportunity to reflect upon what has led you to today.  It is also a wonderful opportunity to thank the people I am welcoming next--your parents, grandparents, and family members who have supported you and helped teach you valuable life lessons along the way.  I congratulate you as well and hope you will take the time this evening to also reflect and feel a sense of pride as you watch your student take their place on the stage of honor tonight. 

I believe it is a great privilege and honor to be able to have a few minutes to share with you tonight.  First, let me tell you that I stand here tonight, one very proud principal. Tonight highlights your achievements in the realms of Scholarship, Leadership, Community Service, and Character.

Your peer leaders will be sharing with you descriptions of these attributes and ways in which you will be given further experiences and opportunities to grow these qualities through your participation in this prestigious society. 

I want to touch on each one tonight briefly, sharing with you some of my own life lessons learned and some hopes and dreams I have for you.  

First, let’s talk about scholarship.  Scholarship is so much more than grades. I know grades are a currency for you and a motivator right now, but soon that motivator will not exist, and I hope you will pursue a lifetime of scholarship.  It’s an attitude toward and a lifelong commitment to learning.  It means you pursue curiosity, think outside the box, take risks and pursue knowledge and wisdom for the sake of helping others.  When you fall in love with learning, you form positive habits that stay with you throughout your time as a student and then into your future career.   Commit this next year to your growth in the areas of scholarship.  One day the incentive of grades will fade away, and if you just learned how to “play school” instead of cultivating a love of learning, your life will not be as rich or as impactful as it could be.  When I look back on my time as a student, the times I grew the most were the times I felt like I had failed.  I bombed a test I felt I was prepared for, I failed my driving test on my first attempt.     But no one learns how to get yourself back up or how to truly know your inherent value if you never taste defeat.  Perfectionism will paralyze.  Instead, try your best but find joy in the journey of learning.  When you fail, fail forward and embrace the lessons life can teach you when you learn to pick yourself back up.  That’s when we grow the most.

Leadership.  First of all, I know I am in the presence tonight of many current leaders and many leaders in training.  And for that, I thank all of you.  The world needs leaders.  And I know that with leadership comes responsibility and many times-hard decisions and many eyes watching you.  But it’s still a road worth taking.  Our ability to move and shake current circumstances to produce better ones, the ability to help someone get connected, find their passions, or make their lives better--these are all pursuits that make taking the baton of leadership worth it.

Whereas I shared that scholarship is more than grades, I want to impress upon you that leadership is more than positions to list on your resume.  Now don’t get me wrong...when you embrace an attitude of service with commitment and dedication as captain or president of your team or club--what a terrific growth experience.   But sometimes we do it for the title and we don’t follow through on our responsibilities or we don’t commit to growing our peers or building capacity in others.  If I am honest with you, there are times as a student I said yes to the title but I didn’t follow through. Sometimes I was overcommitted and shouldn’t have said yes but didn’t want to let people down. Have you ever done that?  But it is better to go deep than to go wide, that I believe.  It is so much more rewarding when our intentions and our commitments are true. Over this next year, I encourage you to lead.  Lead by example, make a difference in our school, and help build capacity in others.

Finally, some of our best leaders have no title at all.  They possess humble confidence and they do many things behind the scenes with no need for recognition or fanfare.  But when you step back to think about the work of these leaders, you realize they have impacted our culture the most.  Do you know any of those quiet leaders?  I gave my entire staff a book last year by Mark Sanborn entitled, “You Don’t Need a Title to Be a Leader.” And when I read it, I couldn’t help but think of so many of our staff members from our custodial staff to our office administrators to our heroic teachers truly living out leadership each day--giving of themselves to further the mission of our school.  Sometimes I think some of our most “quiet” leaders deserve the most thanks.  Any you need to thank today?

Whether titled or untitled, commit today to wholehearted leadership for the growth of yourself and for the good of others. 

Service goes hand and hand with leadership.  In fact, servant leadership is the top pillar of The Westfield Way. Throughout your tenure in the NHS, you will log community service hours.  But just as I encouraged you to see scholarship as more than grades and leadership as more than a resume builder, I implore you to see service as more than a log of hours to fulfill an obligation.  I am sure that many of you have been a part of a volunteer project or a mission trip in which you experienced the life-changing gift that is true service.  The truth is when we serve, I am convinced that we receive an equal or greater blessing than those we served.  When service is truly life-changing it takes us out of our comfort zone, it embraces selflessness and it seeks to truly connect your heart with the person you are serving.  Like I have confessed to you tonight with the other two attributes, there have been times when I did this right and times when my own selfishness or hurried schedule made service an item to check off the list rather than an opportunity to change my life or the life of another.  Some of the greatest experiences took me out of the country to the villages in Guatemala or the inner city of the Dominican Republic, but you don’t always have to cross borders to serve wholeheartedly or to be taken out of your comfort zone.  The time I volunteered to teach ESL courses at my local library or helped tutor a fellow student who was struggling--those too took me out of my comfort zone and changed me for the better.

Whatever you choose to do this year, I just encourage you to give it your all.  Let it be something that challenges you and changes you.  And as you serve, make it your goal to authentically connect with those you are serving.  Too many times we let our communication and connection live in the hands of our devices.  Sometimes I fear that we have forgotten how to look someone in the eye, how to show care in person.  But true service to another requires being in their presence.  Be present in those moments, commit to walk a mile in their shoes, and have the courage to truly connect.  

Finally, there is character.

If there is any one thing that is evidenced by your daily choices, it is your character.

I truly believe what Thomas Macaulay said, “The measure of a man’s real character is what he would do if he knew he would never be found out.”  

Are you the same person in the classroom as you are with your friends?  Are you the same person with your parents as you are when you are alone?  True leaders and true servants must be people of character.  When leaders lead without character, their followers will also be void of character.  You would not be here tonight if there was no evidence of these four pillars in your life.  Someone has seen them or you would not have been extended the invitation to sit here this evening.

But my challenge for you is to shed any layer of duplicity that might be either evident or hidden in your life.  Life is so much more abundant and has so much more impact on our world when it is teeming with character.  One of my favorite quotes says:

‘Be careful of your thoughts, for your thoughts become your words. Be careful of your words, for your words become your actions. Be careful of your actions, for your actions become your habits. Be careful of your habits, for your habits become your character.’ 

While it would be easier to slide through life without a purpose, without a code, it would not be fulfilling. If your words, actions, or habits need a gut check today, take that step.  We have to be honest with ourselves first.  There is no shame in realizing we haven’t been living up to our potential.  But let’s make sure we commit to getting back on track-one step at a time.  Get real with yourself, come clean, and then invite someone to walk the path to character with you.  We are better together than we are on our own.  And students, you are not alone.

In conclusion, I congratulate you on this honor. I am going to leave you with two mantras of mine that many of you have probably heard me say before.   First, dream big.  Go after your passions.  Dive into experiences that help you reach your biggest dreams.  Don’t be afraid to say them aloud and to go for them.  Secondly, do what scares you.  If you feel like you are supposed to befriend someone, but you are afraid to leave the comfort of your group, leave the group for a moment and make a new friend.  If you are feeling led to do something but you are afraid you will fail --do it anyway.  It is by dreaming big and doing what scares us that we grow the most and live our best life.  Love you guys and I am so proud of you.