This student was a classically well-rounded kid: an athlete with strong grades and scores who was well-liked by his peers and often selected for leadership positions. He was interested in a dozen academic areas and loved Colorado College for its block schedule—an unusual form of intensive instruction that allows students to focus on one class for a period of time before moving on to another one. He looked forward to having the opportunity to explore widely across academic disciplines, and he was also attracted to the opportunities for independent study. But he wasn’t ready to choose an academic focus, and he was concerned that his application would feel too mushy—not scholarly enough, without an edge. Application readers would see that he was a “good guy,” but would he catch any individual officer’s eye as a student to fight for?
He was so good-natured that I rarely heard him complain about anything. But there was one thing that bothered him, a dispute he’d had with fellow students that left him feeling unsettled about the choices his school’s administration was making. At first he thought it would be important to hide this concern from admissions departments, lest he come across as difficult or spoiled. Instead he wrote a thoughtful narrative about the situation that gave some insight into his path to senior class president.
He was accepted early action to Colorado College. Though other schools followed suit in the spring—Northwestern and Middlebury among them—his mind was made up.
Although the spotlight is nice, I have never been the sort of person to demand attention. So when, in the spring of my sophomore year, the new dean transformed our school’s leadership structure by creating three distinct groups – prefects, proctors, and peer leaders – I chose to focus on my school work and guitar. But I was, nevertheless, asked to be a peer leader, and that began my experience towards a better understanding of how I view leadership and my role within it.
As a peer leader, I discovered a great deal of hypocrisy within the group. We had agreed to a policy of not using drugs or alcohol, but most of my peers were frequently throwing parties and getting drunk. In addition, the entire school knew, so the peer leaders inspired little respect. I did not view the drinking as the problem. Rather, I found the problem to be people going against their word. I believe that if you say you stand for something, you stand for it. Consequently, I decided not to be a peer leader the following year.
Then I was asked to join the prefects, who oversee student leadership. I did not like the role of the prefects; their power was imposed and based more on creating privileges that community. As an example, during regular school-wide morning meetings, prefects sat in chairs set up on the stage while the rest of us – faculty included – were in the audience. The administration claimed that there weren’t enough seats, but I can assure you that there were. I thought maybe I could change the system from within. During my interview, I told the prefects that I saw that the prefect role needed to be changed because it was creating discomfort among the school. They did not agree. I was turned down, and it hurt.
For a while I was disappointed and upset. But I eventually realized that there existed other options and opportunities. Student Council, for instance, predated the new dean and the peer leaders, proctors, and prefects. I ran for Senior Class President and was elected. I was especially honored because Student Council is the only leadership group chosen exclusively by the students.
As Senior Class President, I am in a position to help our class bond and seek changes that the class sees imperative. The new dean has left, and our school is open for change. I want to take advantage of this opportunity to build a community where leadership doesn’t necessarily require a title, but is conferred by the support, respect, and trust of one’s peers, and maintained by the leader’s honesty and integrity.
Turns out, I wasn’t alone in my frustration. The prefects no longer sit on the stage at morning meeting. It is true now that there aren’t enough seats; the school is growing. All of the student leaders stand in the back of the auditorium. I am proud to be among them.