Wizard of Oz: As for you, you want a heart. You don’t know how lucky you are not to have one. Hearts will never be practical until they can be made unbreakable.
Tin Man: But I still want one.
In the early fall of 2012, I unwillingly got on a bus and headed to Triple C Camp in Charlottesville, VA. I was with three of my freshmen hallmates I didn’t know that well, and two buses full of strangers. I was headed to the New Student Leadership Program (NSLP), run by SEAL, a weekend of climbing towers, ziplining through trees, building boats out of cardboard, making new friends, and growing as a leader. What started as a trip I involuntarily participated in, turned into one of the best experiences of my life. While I still didn’t see myself as a leader, I fell in love with SEAL and knew I had to be a part of this organization that had changed my life in the matter of three days.
This past weekend, I attended NSLP for the fourth and last time. After joining SEAL the spring of my freshman year, I got the opportunity every September to travel back to where my love of leadership began. And when I returned this year, something was different. I confidently stood in front of my blue crew of 9 freshmen and facilitated their conversations as they too, realized they could be a leader. I felt at home, as my recent decision to become a leadership minor had impacted me in more ways than one. As I sat in a circle with my tribe, processing our days together, talking about what it actually means to be a citizen leader, I knew: this is what I wanted to do with my life. I want to work with youth, I want to sit beside others as the lightbulb above their head goes off, when they realize their potential in this world. I want to put harnesses on them, attach them to a rope, and guide them to take that first step out of their comfort zone into the beautiful things waiting ahead. I want them to realize that they do not have to be afraid.
Sunday morning, our closing speaker (and my favorite Longwood professor) stood in front of 67 Longwood students and told us that we can find our potential as long as we are never afraid. You can’t be afraid to put yourself out there, to try something new. You can’t let the fear of your heart being broken stop you from open your heart to people, to places, to new experiences. You cannot grow, you cannot thrive, if you do not step out of your comfort zone and climb that tower, zipline through the trees, jump from plank of wood to plank of wood suspended in the air. We are the people we are because of the decisions we have made, good or bad, because of the ways our hearts have been broken and the ways our hearts have been changed. You can’t ever be afraid to put yourself out there, to feel deeply, to love strongly, to never give up.
The two SEALs that have had the biggest impact on my life and I wandered back onto the course before we left, and just took in the trees, the cables, the places that changed our lives the first time we each stepped foot into these woods. A single tear rolled down my cheek as I realized that if it wasn’t for that first NSLP, I never would have fallen in love with leadership. That it was that second NSLP where I was challenged and tested in my leadership skills for the first time. That I have that third NSLP to thank for my belief that each and every person is capable of being a leader, and for friendships that will remain with me forever. And I realized that this fourth NSLP taught me to never be afraid, to always challenge myself and to wear my heart on my sleeve because I can’t change the world if I don’t ever try. But as I looked through those trees, I felt a peace, a calm, a knowing that I was home. Because as I got on that bus to head back to Longwood, I knew that this wasn’t the end. I knew that one day, I will return home to Triple C, to the place that changed my life, where it all began, four times over.