Past Delegate Reflection – Annelies Van De Ven

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From the 4th to 7th September, I attended the 16th Annual National Student Leadership Forum hosted at the Hyatt Hotel and Parliament Hall in Canberra. Mattias and I were nominated by our college about a month prior to the Forum, and at the initial stage of writing my application, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. It really could have been anything from a four-day series of lectures, or even one of those kumbaya type sharing-round-a-campfire events I had been to when I was younger. The website, though impressive and encouraging, didn’t really give much information about the more practical aspects of the Forum. It reminded me a lot of the movie Fight Club. The first rule of the National Student Leadership Forum: you do not talk about the National Student Leadership Forum. Needless to say, upon waking up on Thursday morning, I was quite nervous. I honestly think my nerves were the only thing keeping me awake that day because 5.00am starts are not exactly my forte. Arriving at the Hyatt didn’t do much to settle my nerves. I arrived in my travel clothes, in this case, it meant jeans and sneakers. Those who have been to Hyatts will know they aren’t really jeans and sneakers kind of places, they tend to be more business attire type hotels. Luckily we arrived well in advance of registration and I had time to change into my ‘parliament-appropriate’ clothes.

Finally at 11.00am, we were given our schedules, which were jam packed with lectures, discussion groups, sporting activities, community service, monument visits and social activities (the main event of the weekend being a Western themed barn dance). At the same time, we were also assigned to our small groups and these were the people we would be spending most of our time with at the Forum. Each small group was made up of a group of around eight delegates from all walks of life and two experienced group facilitators. After meeting our group members for the first time, the Forum got on it’s way for our journey to commence. Before going into the forum on that first day, I would never have expected to have enjoyed it as much as I did. I went in with a lot of skepticism and quite a bit of cynicism on the state of leadership in the world and came out feeling inspired and far more hopeful than I ever thought possible. On our last day, the program director Jock Cameron gave a speech that perfectly summed up the National Student Leadership Forum experience for me and I would like to share his final five points with you. These are:

Point 1: If there’s work to be done, do the work
Cynicism is a common refuge for those disenchanted with the direction leaders are taking the world today. It is easy to stand on the sidelines and judge the actions of others without taking action yourself. People in power are often seen as a suit of armour. They are seen by others merely as the empty shells of their positions, not as actual people with their own motivations and values. We judge them on their actions, whereas we judge ourselves in our intention. Waiting for the world to change before you choose to have a part in building it. I fell into this trap. I had ideals, but did not think they were worth acting upon. By reflecting on our ideals and transforming them into positive values. We are able to combat the inertia of cynicism and make an active difference in the world.

Point 2: Make a decision
Take action now. Don’t let your motivations fall into a realm of abandoned dreams. Act by capitalising on those motivations, let them propel you to move forward.

Point 3: Become a culture maker, not a culture taker
This point pertains to the first one in that it also engages with the necessity in our society to root out cynicism. Creating a culture for yourself takes time, effort and a lot of co-operation. It is not a solo act. In order to achieve this, it is necessary to realise that everyone is important and everyone has a story and that everybody ‘belongs’. Joseph Assaf once insightfully noted that harmony was not an absence of difference but the coordination thereof. By defining the rules of engagement in the life you inhabit, you can create a positive culture for yourself and others in which you can make a difference in the wider world, much like the creators of the forum.

Point 4: Find a way to serve
Service is a way to become. We do it not because we feel like it but because it makes us the person we want to be. The more we give away, the more empowered we become and the more we empower others to do the same.

Point 5: Find like-minded friends and build a community
Building a positive future for yourself and others is a choice. Though any community requires cooperation between people, the choice to enter into the creation of such a community is one you have to make alone. You have the power to determine how you engage with people. By choosing to share and listen to others as they do the same to you creates a positive atmosphere in which a community can thrive and strive towards a common vision. This does not mean all the members of your community must have the same values, as I stated above, difference is a necessity for harmony, but they should be receptive to one another, to difference, and dedicated to a common purpose. By actively engaging with others and opening up to them, we are able to create meaningful relationships that can have a profound impact on how we see ourselves and the world around us.

Mahatma Gandhi once said ‘you must be the change you wish to see in the world’. I believe this forum helps give us the strength to become this change, to engage with the world and others as a transformative leader that serves others, listens without judging and perseveres against adversity.

Photo courtesy of Beck Peggy, another delegate at the 2014 Forum. Author: Annelies Van De Ven
Format: Reflection
Published: December 2014
Publisher: The Graduate Union of the University of Melbourne Inc.
Access: Online Library of the National Student Leadership Forum

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