AT12: The End and the Beginning

Ah! It’s the end of your college career and you’re ready to set sail for greener pastures and more wondrous adventures! But, you also want a nice send off as a remembrance for the work, effort, and investment you’ve put into the team and its members. So, what do you do? Well if you’re a senior, then I would advise that you relax and let the juniors do the majority of the work. They’ve likely just gotten their new leadership positions and are eager to be the new face of the team. In addition, a final event is the perfect opportunity for them to practice their event planning skills in a supportive environment. So, relax and enjoy. You’ve done enough. Thank you for the countless hours you’ve put in your organization. Thank you for the late nights. Thank you for dealing with uncooperative members and listening to difficult stories and making difficult decisions. Thank you for the impact you have made on a new generation, for the lives you’ve changes, for the minds you’ve inspired. Thank you, and the best of wishes for your future endeavors.
             So, this section is largely for the junior who has achieved a new position of leadership. It’s an exciting time for you. You’ve worked your way up and helped many people along the way. You’ve achieved recognition and respect and are in a position to lead the organization to a new and greater tomorrow by standing on the shoulders of the giants that have come before you. But before you get to work planning for the new academic year, you need to celebrate the year that has just passed. Make no mistake, this is a celebration for the seniors first and foremost. It is a celebration for the team second. Of course, that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t consider the team. In fact, considering the team is what makes a great leader. But don’t forget about the effort that the seniors have gone through to make this organization possible and how much they invested in you so that you may achieve your own potential. Not only is it your duty to give the seniors a great send off, but it also sets a great precedent as well. Underclassmen will see the festivities and want to have their own sendoff be just as grand and supportive. In the end, making the event focused around the seniors gives you an opportunity to show your appreciation, but also to give a subtle hint to the newcomers that if they work hard and contribute to the team, their work will also be recognized. So, let’s have at it.
             The first thing you want to take into consideration is what type of event do you want to hold? As with other types of social events, you’ll want to consider budget, planning, and personal preferences. You’ll also want to be as inclusive as possible, though this is an event that can be expected to cost a bit of a premium above normal events. Some classic events that are held at the end of the year include the following (along with combinations of the following):
  • Team dinner at a nice restaurant.
  • A formal.
  • Going on a short cruise (assuming you are near a body of water).
Here are some other creative options you may want to consider:
  • Releasing wish lanterns over a river.
  • Perform a candle light ceremony in a forgotten park.
  • Have team members write personalized expressions of gratitude on a single puzzle piece which eventually builds into a giant puzzle.
In the end, having a well-planned event recognizes your seniors is the bread and butter. But a bit of creativity goes a long way. Make the event unforgettable, and I promise you that your former leader will never forget you. That’s the only proper way to send off a leader you respect and admire.
Whatever avenue you decide to pursue, I think it’s important to plan time for two specific points in the event. The first is to allow the graduating seniors to say a few words about their experience and any insights they might have for the future. The second is to either allow some members of the team to speak about the seniors to show their appreciation or to run a round of strength bombardment. As it was covered in the initiation section, I’ll only briefly recap it here. The members attending will go around and say something kind about each senior. It also may not be a bad idea to do a round for every member present as a good way to end the year on a high note. A well thought out parting gift is also a nice idea.
Your Legacy
Any organization that you lead should be better when you leave it than when you found it. Though at the beginning of your administration, I wouldn’t worry too much about the legacy that you’ll leave. Start by getting your feet on the ground. Cultivate an understanding of the environment you’ll be dealing with, the tools at your disposal, and the goals you’ll want to pursue. Your primary objective should be positive effectiveness; your legacy will follow.
What is a legacy? I see a legacy as a seed that you plant within your organization which will continue to grow and expand even after you leave. Your legacy will consist of two main components. The first part will be dependent on the actions you take and the initiatives you spearhead. The second part will be determined by your members: how they interpret your changes and the community they build through their interactions.
I’m proud to say that after leaving my organizations, our alumni have gone to work for the top companies in the world including Accenture, McKinsey, Goldman Sachs, Apple, Microsoft, BlackRock, and so many more. Our alumni have attended the best graduate programs including Harvard Medical School and Graduate School of Education, the Wharton Business School, Yale Law School, the University of Pennsylvania Law School and many others. Our alumni have received distinguished awards like the Rhodes Scholarship, achieved top scores on the Bloomberg Aptitude Test, and have traveled and settled around the globe. Almost all of our alumni attribute their success to the lessons they’ve learned and the people they’ve met in organizations that I’ve been fortunate enough to lead. And I am proud of every single one of them. I list the accomplishments of my teammates not because I wish to brag (I am bragging a little), but because I want to show that your actions as a leader have real impact on the people who are currently in your organization and the ones who have experienced your legacy. They will go out and become leaders of the next generation. They will shake the world in ways we can’t possible anticipate. To lead such individuals is a gift granted to very few. But it is a gift you will be able to cherish for the rest of your life.
You’ve learned a tremendous amount, and you’ve come a long way. I’ve taught you almost everything I know about leadership up to this point in my life. Here’s one more nugget:  the greatest leaders see beyond their organization.
The legacy that you leave behind in your organization will be the environment that you foster, the events that have become traditions, and the passion you infuse within the organization. But, this legacy extends far beyond the confines of a school team. The energy and love that you invest in your members will be noticed and felt. If you were a truly great leader, the lessons you’ve left behind will flower in the individuals you have impacted. They will go on to become great leaders in their fields filled with love and a passion for their organizations and their people. That, in turn, will have a galvanizing effect as they transfer the lessons they’ve learned from you to their subordinates. Indeed, your leadership may have a boundless impact that transforms the world.
We’ve discussed many topics and you’ve hopefully gained an understanding of how to run a successful organization. This section is largely for me to reminisce about how my organizations have developed during my tenure. I hope it will also give you a sense of the change that is possible if you embrace the challenge of being a great student leader. My hope is that you will take these lessons and exceed me as a leader in every way possible. After all, there’s no point in me telling the story of this journey if you are not to be the beneficiary. Take the endings of my stories bellow as a benchmark of what’s possible. Then exceed them, and make me proud.
CS1: No doubt, as you’ve progressed through this book, you’ve gotten the sense that the Speech & Debate Team was my proudest accomplishment. Looking back, I can’t help but smile. I still remember when we were a meager team of five members struggling to keep the organization alive. By the end of my tenure we had flourished to thirty members, and we were one of the most respected nationally competitive teams on the circuit. But, I think the moment that captures it all was the state competition held during my senior year at Penn State University. It was almost a homage to my freshmen days. This weekend was always a special weekend. Our university hosts its own national level high school competition, and we generally split our team between those who attend the state competition and those who volunteer for the high school competition. We sent five people to states including myself. There’s something to be said about packing five people into a small car and driving away into the darkness. Anyone who’s been on a traveling team with me knows my playlist is better suited for a wedding ceremony than a roadtrip. I’m really an unapologetic romantic. Some people complain about it. Some people love it. In the end, that back and forth in the car about what music should be played just adds to the air of joviality. But there’s also a sense of destiny. A bit of hope that all those people stuck in such a small space hurtling through life will build connections, skills, and traits that change the world. This tournament was just such an occasion.
             When we arrived at the hotel, we grabbed dinner and went to prepare for our events. There wasn’t too much to do. We were all mostly ready. Then the tournament came. The thing about speech & debate tournaments is that the day tends to be rather dull with punctuated moments of excitement. Between rounds of competition, you generally just sit trying to occupy your time. Then when rounds start, there’s a flurry of activity as people go to their rooms and that’s when the stress begins. There’s nothing quite like competitive public speaking to get the heart rate up. In the room, you do a juggling act where you pretend to pay attention to the current speaker while frantically running through your own speech in your head. Then it’s your turn. As you walk to the front of the room, your body is on edge with each nerve screaming danger to your brain. But then, something incredible happens, at least for the experienced speakers that I’ve talked to. When you begin speaking, all the nerves just wash away. And if you’re doing particularly well, you start to feel an actual connections with your audience. Eye contact becomes something you don’t just do. It creates a live connection between you and an individual. You feel like a conduit through which a message that needs to be heard finds its voice. And at the end, there’s a discernible pause, like something momentous has just happened and everyone needs a moment to catch their breath. You sit down, and the applause starts.
             Then you sit and sit and sit waiting for some announcement, any announcement. As I said, boredom punctuated by moments. But then the announcement came, it was time to declare the results! My team walked briskly to the award ceremony. The air was alive with energy. They started off with the debate results. Our debate competitors had placed first! We had two top speakers! Then, came the speech results. Speech is always a little more fun because they call the top six speakers who compete in a final round up to the stage and then announce who placed where starting from the sixth speaker. Your stomach is in knots and each time the announcer opens his or her mouth, you fervently hope that your name isn’t called. At least, not until the end. If you’re in the audience, you’re respectfully clapping for each position, but you get really excited if one of your teammates is in the top two. You wait with bated breath hoping beyond hope that they don’t call your teammate’s name. And when they don’t, you get a direct injection of happiness padded with a little guilt. After all, you’re partially celebrating someone else’s loss. You try to reserve your clapping since you don’t want to be too excited yet. Then finally, they call your teammate’s name and the name of your team, and you leap up with uproarious hollers, foot stomping, and of course clapping. After all, your teammate is the new state champion! It seemed like we were doing a lot of that tonight. With a team of five people, we walked away with six individual championship titles and speaking awards out of twelve categories. Then, it was the moment we were all waiting for. The entire team awards. We sat quietly, respectfully applauding as the teams were announced. Sixth place, then fifth place, then fourth place, then third… Then, there were two teams left, and our team had not yet been called. The announcer shuffled his papers for what seemed like a lifetime.
“And the winner of the 2015 Pennsylvania State Forensics Championship Presidential Sweepstakes is … THE UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA!”
There was a moment of stunned shock before we rocketed up onto our feet. To say there was hollering and happiness would be an understatement. We had done, what a few years ago, I was told was impossible. We had won the state championship for the first time in the University’s history.
There was a warm glow that surrounded us that night. We skipped outside without a care in the world, never mind that there was a blizzard and the temperature was in the single digits. Marking the ground with our footsteps, we got to our car, which was frozen solid. Our excitement diminished a bit when it took us thirty minutes to clear the windshield with an impromptu wiper (our credit cards), but then the trip back was able to begin. We were returning to campus after a successful tournament. There was a quiet contentment in the air, and some of my members in the back were fast asleep after a long day. The snow was coming down heavy. It was dark. It was almost like we were traveling at the speed of light through hyperspace like the snowflakes were stars just whizzing by. My VP of interpretation and I sat side by side not saying a word, listening to the quiet hum of the car. I felt fate draped comfortably around my shoulders assuring me that my work was done. This part of my journey was over, and it was time for a new adventure. There are certain moments in my life that I consider magical. This was one of those moments.

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