Feb. 4, 2009

By Kim Misrahi ’09

“The role of being a leader is not a right, it is a privilege,” speaker and leadership trainer Ed Gerety told a crowd of Amherst students in a keynote speech at the college’s Leadership, Education and Development (LEAD) Conference on Sunday, Jan. 25. “It is a responsibility that we bestow upon ourselves to then reach out and to serve others… The greatest choice that you and I have the power to make as leaders is the choice and the decision to lead by example.”

Gerety shared these thoughts and other insights in a motivational talk that helped kick off an afternoon of sessions aimed at teaching students the practical tools necessary to achieve their leadership potential. Sponsored by the Association of Amherst Students, Office of the President, Center for Community Engagement (CCE), Career Center, Health Education, Student Activities, Multicultural Resource Center, Residential Life and Athletics Department, the conference offered more than 200 participants 12 different workshops on leadership-related topics led by members of the college community. The sessions themselves focused on everything from “Building Inclusive Organizations and Programs” to “Career Strategies for Campus Leaders” to “Planning and Facilitating Effective Meetings.”

CCE Director Molly Mead, whose staff helped coordinate the conference, explained that the objective of the day’s activities was “to lift the level of student leadership on this campus and create more committed, more competent and more effective leaders.” Another important goal was to help prepare participants for their post-college careers, she said. “We expect a lot of what Amherst students will do after they leave here, so if we help build students’ skills… then they can make a huge contribution to society.”

In addition to overseeing the conference, Mead hosted the “Secrets of Public Speaking” workshop. “Public speaking is a great way to mobilize people,” she noted. 

Suzanne Coffey, director of athletics, led a session that offered tools for maximizing the intended impact of everyday behaviors, deeds and interactions. Her advice to students: “Practice, practice, practice,” because “leaders are made, not born.” “If you are an incredibly shy person and you can’t see yourself up in the front of the room,” she said, “what’s standing between you and getting there is a set of skills. You learn skill sets along the way.”

 “In high school,” said Chris Govey ’10 after the Coffey and Gerety talks, “I was captain of two sports, and as a leader I know that there is always room for improvement. Listening to speakers like these lets you reevaluate your strengths and your weaknesses.”

Jodie Simms ’09 signed up for LEAD to improve her communication skills and learn how to facilitate discussion among different groups. Simms recently started a public health collaborative with other students, faculty, staff and community members. One of the goals of the initiative, she said, “is to work together on public health issues and improve the health of local communities and for different groups to work together effectively to really get things done and increase awareness of public health.”

Other participants took something simpler from the gathering: inspiration. “Motivational speaking is something that I might do in schools at home, so seeing other people do it [is encouraging],” said Keratilwe Tsatsimpe ’11 after hearing Gerety speak. “Africa has a need for that, especially where I come from in Johannesburg, South Africa.… Most people see lack of finances as a deterrent, and I just want to show that this doesn’t have to be the case, especially if you work hard, are dedicated, and surround yourself with good people. It happened in my life, and so I always thought it can happen with other people too.”