Leaders Worth Following

This post will appear in this month's edition of "The Sanborn Voice", SRHS's student newspaper:

As a high school principal, the most popular question I get asked by students and parents alike is, “what is one thing I (or my child) can do to guarantee they will be successful in high school and in their future?” The truth is, there are many factors that contribute to success. If, however, I had to pick just one trait then here is how I would answer that question the next time it is posed to me:

When I look at successful high school students, a common trait that is apparent to me is that the student is always a leader, not a follower. Here is my advice to you: If you want to be successful in life then don’t worry about what others will think of you, just be yourself. Be assertive, take initiative, and take responsibility for your own learning and your own destiny. This is the one trait I wish for my own three boys when they grow up. I know if they are willing to lead by example, their peers will accept them for who they are and they will have the self-confidence to achieve their goals.

In my article for this month, I wanted to share with you two stories of Sanborn students that I believe are great examples of leaders worth following. Although they both have the same focus at Sanborn they have taken two very different approaches in their quest to become a leader. I admire both of them for the initiative and drive they show every day in everything they do.

Ruby Chaffee

Many of Ruby’s friends would describe her as a strong, slightly outspoken member of the senior class. She has served in various leadership roles including student council during her time at Sanborn, but it is her work this year with the school’s Diversity Club that has inspired me the most lately. I have a lot of respect for Ruby and the way in which she has been able to raise awareness for issues that affect almost every single one of us at some point in our lives.

Ruby, along with other Sanborn students, have taken the Diversity Club to new levels this year. They have spoken at several venues recently including state-wide anti-bullying conferences and in front of our own faculty. Over February vacation, Ruby was asked by representatives from the State to participate in the “Born This Way Foundation Launch” hosted by singer Lady Gaga. This event was part of the program “Prevent Bullying, Create Caring Communities Youth Summit” at Harvard. The youth summit gave all who participated an opportunity to hear from an impressive, diverse group of high school students about their experiences with, and their efforts to prevent, bullying. Ruby helped share her thoughts about how to stop bullying and other forms of victimization, describing specific strategies they have developed and used. This program gained the national attention of Oprah, who covered the event.

Rachel Burnham

Many of you may not yet know Rachel, a quiet and soft-spoken member of the freshman class, but you will in the years to come. Rachel and I first met last fall when she came to me to pitch an idea for some anti-bullying and teen suicide/depression awareness campaigns that she was prepared to start at Sanborn. These ideas came to her after she had conducted an independent research project on these topics with Sanborn students.

Since that meeting, Rachel has started the Broken Project. In her own words, Rachel describes this project as having a mission of raising awareness for depression, self-injury, teen suicide, and bullying. Her work has caught the attention of local community leaders who have helped her secure access to funding and connections to places like the Sad Café where she can fundraise and hold events on these topics.

Rachel and Ruby are two people that I, as Principal, always consult with when I am working on initiatives to address school culture and climate at Sanborn. I have this high level of respect for them not because of what they say, but because of what they do. They take the initiative to get involved in things they are passionate about, and they lead by example in everything they do. I challenge each and every one of you to consider doing the same. What topic are YOU passionate about? What can YOU do to improve our school community? I can’t wait to see who amongst you rises to my challenge to become a leader, not a follower. Perhaps Ruby’s and Rachel’s stories will inspire you today.


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