“If you want to be a leader, you should make sure that everyone in your community has more than you.”
Keynote speaker Wab Kinew’s words rang out in the McInnes Room on January 30 at Dal Lead!, the annual student leadership conference at Dalhousie University.
The one-day conference, now in its second year, grew from its 199 participants last year to bring together 323 students and staff of Dalhousie to take part in icebreakers, concurrent sessions, think tanks, and keynote presentations. It was an opportunity for student leaders to learn not only from community partners and alumni, but also from each other.
“When it comes to leadership, everyone has different styles and a different perspective on how they do what they do best,” said Dalhousie student and conference presenter Bobby MacPherson. “An event like this is an amazing opportunity, because now all of these different leadership styles, these different perspectives, these different stories, are all in the same room together. Having those presentations on various topics allows leaders to take opportunities to explore something that they may not know about.”
The theme of this year’s conference was “Together Towards Tomorrow,” which was reflected in the program offerings of the day. Some of the student-led sessions focused on embracing flaws, accepting vulnerabilities, and owning up to embarrassing moments to turn those weaknesses or mistakes into learning opportunities for the future. Others ran the gamut from running effective campaigns to creating safe, inclusive communities.
What it takes to be true leader
Eric Donovan, one of the conference organizers and coordinator of experiential learning opportunities for Dal’s Career & Leadership Development Centre, says this year they reached out to alumni to present to the student audience — including inviting Pam Cooley, an alumna of Dalhousie’s Recreation Management Program and co-founder of CarShareHFX, to deliver the morning keynote address. The alumni-led sessions included such themes as turning your hobby into a business and what lies ahead for student leaders after graduation.
Donovan says the organizers also worked with the Recruitment Office to ask local high schools to nominate student leaders from their respective schools to attend the conference. On Saturday, 32 grade 12 students from across the city came to Dal to learn more about what it takes to be a true leader — working with others to move forward.
This theme was also prevalent in Wab Kinew’s keynote speech presented at the end of the day. A member of the Onigaming First Nation, associate vice-president for Indigenous Relations at the University of Winnipeg, and CBC personality, Kinew spoke about residential schools and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
Using his father’s experience as a residential school survivor and his own experience with inter-generational trauma, Kinew reminded conference attendees of the importance of learning from history’s mistakes. His presentation was infused with humour and heartfelt anecdotes, but his serious tone was a moving reminder of the traumatic experiences that Indigenous people have faced and are still facing in Canada.
Kinew also spoke of the importance of kindness and of being a leader not only through knowledge and experience, but also through attitude and the ways in which leaders treat other people.
“It’s not enough to be right,” said Kinew. “You also have to be good.”
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