Students Attend and Reflect Upon Leadership Conference

Diversity; Professional Development; Networking. Signs from the conference.

Photo credits: Ryan Catalani

On Saturday, February 4, four Emerson students – Ryan Catalani ’15, Mandy Cordero ’15, Olivia Hinojosa ’13, and Elizabeth Venere ’14 – attended the 17th Annual Student Leadership Conference at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts (MCLA) in North Adams, MA. Attendees chose from a number of educational sessions, engaged in round table discussions, and had the opportunity to explore issues of leadership with their peers from across the state. Below are two students’ reflections on the conference.

Elizabeth’s Reflection

Student Leadership Conference Cake“Show up.” These two words are the difference between achieving your dreams and watching them go by from the sidelines. “Show up” is the difference between making an impact and making a tiny blip on the radar. It is also the difference between being awake and being ready to take on the day, as I learned last weekend.

When I arrived at the Student Leadership Conference at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I assumed we would attend some general workshops on leadership that would give us helpful tools to use in class or on-campus activities. I was not expecting the dedication, enthusiasm, and excitement that the student organizers demonstrated in creating a program that addressed a variety of leadership topics. The topics covered included public speaking, diversity, and training new leaders. Even subjects I did not expect to be featured, such as resume writing, networking, and dressing for an interview, were addressed. The organizers presented every possible angle of leadership and how to get there, and gave me all the information I would ever need to make a great presentation or dress for an interview.

My favorite part of the conference was the keynote speaker, Ryan Penneau. His excitement was equal parts thrilling and terrifying, especially early in the morning. He didn’t stand still once; he weaved in and out of the tables at almost a sprint. However, he kept us engaged. I wish I had even a fraction of his passion and boundless energy for helping people stay engaged and pursue their dreams. His mantra throughout his opening speech and subsequent sessions was “show up.” He didn’t mean just physically being there, although he said that’s the first step. He meant making sure you are physically, mentally, and emotionally engaged in whatever you’re doing, from school to work to clubs. It’s only by investing yourself like this, he believes, you’ll get the most out of college and whatever opportunities you motivate yourself to pursue.

This message resonated with the audience, especially me. Sure, we had physically shown up to this conference and demonstrated our interest in expanding our leadership qualities. What we would get out of it, however, would be our responsibility by fully participating in the sessions and putting ourselves out there. That was Penneau’s central message. After hearing this, and spending the day at the workshops, I feel like I now have more tools to help me “show up” every day.
– Elizabeth Venere ’14

Ryan’s Reflection

Students at the Leadership ConferenceThe MCLA Student Leadership Conference was a great experience. We drove in perhaps the only Escalade in Boston for over three hours to a town so far northwest that we were nearly in New York. The conference opened with Ryan Penneau, an energetic speaker – energetic may be an understatement – whose overarching message was that you should be present and fully invested in what you’re doing, both in class and in extracurricular activities. He urged us not to be apathetic or halfhearted, to really listen to what a professor is saying without texting, and to lead tenaciously in clubs and organizations.

The first presentation I attended was delivered by a college freshman originally from Pakistan. His father was in the military, so in his childhood he had to move over half a dozen times, jumping from school to school. For a few years, he didn’t even attend school. Making the transition back to school was difficult, he said, but after staying at home and playing video games for such a long time, he found he loved to learn, to engage his brain in new material. He soon leaped to the top of his class. This was a story of determination, of the importance and joy of learning. Emerson affords us a world-class education, and it’s easy to forget that most of the planet doesn’t have access to an institution like ours. His story was a reminder that we should feel fortunate to attend this college and take advantage of everything it offers.

I attended a workshop with Ryan Penneau, the opening speaker, about how to make presentations livelier. It’s easy to read bullet points from a slideshow, but Penneau urged us to take risks, to step outside our comfort zones and be more enthusiastic, to really engage the audience. I learned about how to read body language and become more aware of what your body language may suggest to others. Is your body open or closed, your legs crossed or fidgeting? Are you rubbing your palms, which people do to comfort themselves? These are useful things to keep in mind during presentations, conferences, job interviews, and even chats with your friends.

Finally, I participated in a conversation about race – about society’s changing perceptions and continuing prejudices, and what we can do to end racially prejudicial actions – intentional or not – on our campuses. The strongest message was to not be afraid to speak up if you see something wrong. Sometimes, it takes just one voice to end an injustice.

The conference closed and we began our trek through winding mountain roads back to Emerson. Like the burgeoning, kaleidoscopic sunset, which had just begun to stretch across the sky, I met students of all colors, listened to speakers of many hues, and learned lessons of various shades during the leadership conference, an invaluable experience in how to become a better leader, both in college and in the rest of my life.

Ryan Catalani ’15

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