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Saturday, April 6, 2013

Being The Most Popular Kid In Class Doesn't Work Forever


I was asked to share this story from the NY Times with you guys. The source article can be found here. The article shares the name with my post title and was written by Dr. Christopher Howard, President of Hampden-Sydney College. It was published by the "NY Times inCollege In Leadership" column.

        I can recall vividly the seventh-grade student council
competition. My social studies teacher dutifully scanned the
classroom for volunteers, exhorting at least one of us to run for
office. Never shy to voice my opinion, it was not too difficult
for me to accept her charge. “Howie for Student Council”
posters joined similarly decorated signs for candidates vying
for a coveted position as a representative of the people. More
importantly, time drew nearer and nearer to the day when each
candidate was expected to give their campaign speech to students
waiting anxiously with open ears and closed minds.
        After the fifth candidate finished, it was my turn to speak.
I was passionate, energetic, and interested in helping my fellow
students; however, my talk was not terribly remarkable. But
regardless of my oratory skills, I had something every kid needed
to win an election: popularity. Like most other young people that
age, I equated popularity with leadership. Not much changed
during my successful runs for office through high school and
even college, but I eventually arrived at positions in the military,
Corporate America, non-profits, and higher education where,
by definition, making unpopular decisions represented effective
leadership. The desire to be popular had somehow become a
        As the president of Hampden-Sydney College, I am impressed
each day by young people who figuratively and literally want to
change the world. Through their work with clubs, organizations,
and even their very own 501(c)(3) corporations housed both
on and off campus, these young men work diligently for a
greater good, leading as best they know how. They support
popular causes and, not too unlike my seventh-grade student
council campaign, they remain generally well-liked by all they
encounter. But I think it is important to caution this at times
overly-confident generation, as well as the reader, that leadership
is not a popularity contest. Moreover, those of us who teach and
develop future leaders must educate these apt pupils on what is
just around the corner in their often peripatetic lives.
       Professor Ronald Heifetz of the John F. Kennedy School of
Government at Harvard University often talks about leadership
being a dangerous place. It is even more so for young people
if they transition to leadership roles unprepared mentally,
emotionally, spiritually, and even physically for the daunting
tasks at hand. As old-fashioned as it may sound, we need
to provide opportunities for emerging leaders to develop
toughness—or what Dr. Angela Duckworth from the University
of Pennsylvania calls GRIT—if they are to survive and thrive in
the 21st century.
        I am not arguing for a Dickensian grey world consisting
of ritualistic slaps on the wrist, just because. However, I am
reminding scholars and practitioners of leadership education
alike to recall that no matter how elegant an idea may be, it
often takes an individual with the courage to endure some
degree of deprivation to see it through to the end.
Perhaps the best way of achieving this goal is to intentionally
link character education to leadership development, with the
appropriate crucible experiences incorporated along the way.
Good examples include individuals like Bob McDonald, CEO
of Proctor & Gamble, and Colonel Mark Hyatt, Executive
Director of the Foundation for Character Development, who
sponsor important initiatives that assist with positive character
        The military calls it the “loneliness of command,” while
others, describing the quintessential leadership role, the
American Presidency, describe it as “the glorious burden.”
Whichever title one chooses, leadership is not a seventh-grade
student council election. We must keep this precept in mind
when developing the next generation of leaders.

Now, I don't usually just post things like this without commenting on them, and I'm certainly not going to start now. I'm not sure why the anonymous reader asked me to share this article written by Dr. Christopher Howard. It's a nice piece, though. I understand where Dr. Howard is coming from, though I was never one to run for student leadership positions. I hated the institution of "class presidents" in High School because it was always the dumb popular jocks that won. (I'm not saying all popular people are dumb, that all jocks are dumb, or that all jocks are popular, or anything of that nature. That's just kinda how it turned out at my school).

That being said, I can't help but notice that there is still a fair bit of that going on in college. Now, I'm sure the students elected to positions this year at HSC will do fine, but they weren't necessarily the ones I voted for. I did however, notice that when I asked people who they were voting for and why, a disappointingly common response was "I just think he's cool." Another: "He's my friend. I have to vote for him!" And, of course, my favorite: "Well I'm not going to vote for someone who has no chance of winning. . ."

The student leaders that end up being elected to position at Hampden-Sydney are usually fairly competent, and I have very few negative things to say about any of them. I do find it disconcerting that I hear comments like those around election times. It is that exact sort of sentiment that kept me from running for the office of President for this past year. I didn't think there was any chance of winning, and I didn't really see the point, so I stuck to my academics, instead. I'm not at school to lead, anyway.

Anyway, that's pretty much all I have to say on this article. Do you guys have anything you would like to say? Responses? Leave a comment, please, and if you have any stories of your own to share, pelase email me at!

--Your Editor.

An Apology, an Update, and "Where do we go from here?"

Greetings everyone,

As you might have surmised from the title, I have some things to say. Additionally, if you are a regular reader of mine, you've probably been waiting quite a while for this. So, to start with, I'd like to give an apology. In the comments of my last post, I promised an update to cover more angles and perspectives of the election night hate incident.

Unfortunately, I got busy. Such is life. In my defense, I am just an undergrad student, and I have been working through my capstone project, honors thesis, and several other projects. (They all turned out well so far, thanks for asking!) I feel like this excuse is not nearly strong enough, and so I feel guilty that I have waited so long to post any sort of update.

To be perfectly fair, though, there really hasn't been too much going on on campus in the same sort of dramatic scale (pertaining to this incident, I mean). There has been a very nice level of continued conversation about it, though. Everyone at the school has continued to be concerned about this sort of incident, and so we have all started working on way to prevent this sort of thing from happening ever again. I have personally started attending meetings with the Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities (I think I have that acronym right), along with several other student and student leaders. The workshops have gone exceptionally well.

I also hear tell of several programs that may be introduced next term for incoming freshmen that revolve around promoting the idea of inclusiveness. It's starting to look like things are taking a positive turn. Of course, at the same time, there's no way to tell how this will turn out, and only time will really tell.

And finally, a look toward the future. You might wonder why I chose today to update. Well I'm currently in Ann Arbor, Michigan with a few professors and students for a conference hosted by the American Men's Studies Association. We were all presenting on different things (one of our students even spoke about the racial incident and the way rhetoric was used in the aftermath. Very good stuff!). I'm in the hotel room right now, because I wanted to avoid the madness outside (it's fairly crazy at the moment). I was thinking about the blog, and several things, and since I had nothing else to do, I thought I'd take a look here and work on this.

Now, I graduate in May. Over the past few months, I regret to say that I've become far less interested in what is going on at the school. I will be gone soon, after all, so why care? I still care, though. The future of this blog, however, may not last as long. I have a few other story ideas that I may be able to work on, and I'm going to keep the site up, just in case anyone wants to go back and look at it, but there's a strong possibility that my stories will be few and far between. Additionally, since I wont be attending the school anymore, my information will all be a bit disconnected from the source. we will see what happens.

In the end, though, I just want to thank everyone for reading and supporting me in this endeavor. As always, feel free to leave comments, and if you have a story you'd like to share, please email me at

Again, thank you!
--Your editor