Let me be a little braver
When temptation bids me waver
Let me strive a little harder
To be all that I should be
Let me be a little meeker
With the Brother that is weaker
Let me think more of my neighbour
And a little less of me
I stood at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra on the 24th August 2018, listening to Dr Brendan Nelson, the Director of the Australian War Memorial, recite the above poem, which was found on a crumpled piece of paper, held by a fallen soldier taking his last breaths. The words spoken not only reflected my experience in Canberra over the four days, but also illustrated a number of lessons to continue to live by.
I was fortunate to have been chosen to attend the 2018 National Student Leadership Forum, along with 200 other incredible delegates from all around the world. In the 21st century in particular, ‘leadership’ as a concept is something we often hear about. We see self-help books written about it, and Ted-talks focused on ‘The Qualities of a Good Leader’, but rarely question the values and beliefs that lie beneath one’s leadership. When people lead, they are typically doing so because they value or believe in what they are promoting. And whilst leadership is portrayed as a positive quality, leadership on its own, if driven by the wrong values, can lead to disastrous outcomes. The forum did not focus on a vague ideal of ‘leadership’ but rather the specific and individual values and beliefs that drive each individual’s leadership. It was thus more about why people led, rather than how effectively or ineffectively they led. I got to hear why people were passionate about the different causes they aimed to promote, what made them get out of bed every morning, and how these values translated into effective leadership in the long run. ‘Leadership’ is also often associated with individual skills, abilities and achievements. One of the most important takeaways from the NSLF for me was that true leadership required less of advancing one’s own interests and desires forward, and more of promoting a greater cause — whether this be the community’s needs, or the nation’s.
“Let me think more of my neighbour and a little less of me”
During dinners at the Forum, we were presented with some of the most incredible speakers, having undergone countless experiences of struggle and resilience. One such story we were fortunate enough to hear was the story of Carolyn and David Stedman. Carolyn and David are currently in their 70s, and have been married for nearly 50 years. For the past 42 years, they have dedicated their lives to providing care for over 70 foster children! Many of the children Carolyn and David took in were previously abused, abandoned, born with addictions, and experienced severe mental illness. Regardless of the challenges, Carolyn and David took them in and cared for each one as one of their own. The couple spoke about how their lives consisted of sleepless nights, and having to administer doses of cocaine to small babies as many were born with addictions. What was most difficult however was that Carolyn shared that many times she was not told what happened to the children after they had gone back to the foster homes, and their adopted parents rarely contacted her with updates.
This story exemplified true selflessness and the importance of a stable family environment in the beginning stages of a child’s development. More importantly however, it exemplified the importance of contributing to the community through something as simple as caring, without expecting anything in return. To me, Carolyn and David will always serve as a perfect example of servant leadership.
“Let me be a little meeker with the brother that is weaker”
One of the greatest lessons taken from the Forum for me was the power of compassion. During the four days in Canberra, I met the most extraordinary people and listened to some of the most breathtaking and heartbreaking stories. I heard about individuals being born in the jungle due to the militia burning their village down and all the pregnant women fleeing. I heard the story of Professor Munjed Al Muderis, now a leading Australian orthopaedic surgeon, who was faced with a decision in his home country whether to dismember refugees captured by the militia or get killed, forcing him to flee the country. I heard stories about refugee camps and harsh immigration paths, and about love and suffering amongst it all. What surprised me the most about all of the stories however was that I never thought, by looking at or speaking to the individuals on a surface level, that these were the experiences each had gone through.
The delegates of the NSLF volunteered together in surrounding communities, helping out with anything the local residents needed. This included tasks such as raking leaves, watering plants and gardening, but also tasks such as walking pets or simply speaking to residents about things they had recently gone through. The word ‘help’ meant different things to each person, and the community service was a great opportunity to explore practically what it means to serve others.
“Let me be a little braver when temptation bids me waver”
Being sucked into our busy lives, we often do not have time to reflect or think about anything but ourselves and our passions and interests. And whilst at times this is desirable, the National Student Leadership Forum taught me about the importance of working for something greater. I saw a different side of ‘leadership’ — one that involved a greater goal than just individual desires and goals. All of the elements of the forum left a lasting impact both in how I understand ‘leadership’ as well as how I practice it daily.
Other Awardees from Graduate House
You can view the list evry person that has won an award in the form of a scholarship, bursary, National Student Leadership Forum (NSLF) nomination and more at the Graduate House Website.