From Nov. 17-20, the fifth annual Canadian Conference on Student Leadership (CCSL) was held in Calgary, Alberta. I was one of the eight undergraduate students from the University of Manitoba given the unique opportunity to accompany Camilla Tapp, UMSU president, and Brendan Hughes, director of Student Life, to the conference. Although seen by some as more of a networking opportunity, those attending the CCSL saw the conference as a place to learn and develop new ideas for the betterment of our home campus.
From beginning to end, the conference was packed with content meant to provoke thought and conversation. With four keynotes, and a great number of presentations, there was hardly time to grab a cup of coffee before you were whisked away into another session. The presentations were set up in a peer-teaching-peers format. All of the sessions were developed by attending students to pass their knowledge of what works or does not work in the context of four central topics: emerging leadership, refining leadership, service learning, and health and wellness. From there, presenters had free range producing topics from enhancing the volunteer experience to turning your passion into a profession through leadership.
The truly inspirational component of the conference lay within its four keynote speakers: W. Brett Wilson, co-founder of FirstEnergy Capital Corp. and “dragon” (on the TV show Dragon’s Den); Conor Grennan, author of Little Princes and founder of Next Generation Nepal; Camille de Lacy, University of Calgary orientation coordinator; and Craig Kielburger, co-founder of Free The Children and Me to We.
Each speaker came with a message to pass on to the students at the conference. Wilson spoke of changing his priorities to personal health and family before business and that having passion without priorities is just wandering. He said it is not sufficient to be a leader alone; your success is largely dependent on the partners you choose.
Grennan, on the other hand, said sometimes leadership find us. He explained that upon first entering Nepal, he had no intention of stopping the injustices of child trafficking. It was in Nepal his passion and leadership found him. He believes we all have a gift, and to become a true leader we must find something we are passionate about and applying our gift towards that passion.
Our third keynote, Camille de Lacy, spoke of using our passion as our “guiding compass.” Although our plans may change and we may take a roundabout way, it is our passion that leads us. Also, by being authentic and taking ownership of our failures, combined with our guiding compass, we can begin to understand our true selves.
The final keynote, Craig Kielburger, has been inspiring the world since the age of 12, when he and a group of friends founded Free the Children. He began his presentation with examples from within the last month where he believed leadership has failed. He further explained his dislike of the term “donor fatigue” and explained the reasons why he believes it does not exist. He left us with a challenge: to stay involved and do what we believe helps the most, be that donating money or volunteering at home or around the world.
Those of us attending the conference all had different reasons for being there. Some were more focused on international development and service learning, others were focused on bringing what they learned and applying it to the University of Manitoba. We were inspired not only by the keynotes but by the other students attending the conference, something that was echoed by Grennan. In his post-conference blog, he explained how he was inspired by students at the conference. He personally describes the majority of his time in college being spent on the couch with a bag of chips. It was only later in life that he became involved. And now after speaking with the students attending CCSL, he is determined to work even harder. He was amazed that on top of school, homework, relationships and potentially a part-time job, we were still able to find time to stay involved.
We went to the conference to learn and left feeling inspired. Regardless of the effect the conference had on students, the true inspiration comes from our peers and friends at the University of Manitoba. Sure, we gained a couple of Facebook friends along the way, but those who attended are now all working on various projects to improve our university and community. With that, however, we need help. We need you. There are hundreds of opportunities offered within our university. Take the time to consider some of them, be it international exchange, volunteering, or even something as simple as attending an event you are interested in.
As Craig Kielburger said in his keynote, “One person can make a difference, but a group can make a change.”