Opening Possibilities

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Tonight was the Opening Ceremony for the World Academy for the Future of Women.  The ceremony is completely student-organized and student-driven.  If new members aren’t present at this ceremony, they are booted from the Academy and their space is opened up for in-coming freshman to apply.  Academy members are encouraged to bring faculty and family members to the ceremony so they can learn a bit more about what WAFW and the UN Millennium Goals are all about. Though there was a BBQ on campus as well as several student meetings, the auditorium in the Administration Building was quite full.

The Advanced Academy members, those that have completed their first year in the academy, took the stage in the uniforms they received upon completing their first year and conducted the ceremony in English.  Speaking to an auditorium full of people is a daunting task in your own language, let alone a foreign one.

Suzanne, Jerrie, Monday, and Jackie lead the auditorium in the World Academy for the Future of Women’s oath.

Suzanne, Jerrie, Monday, and Jackie lead the auditorium in the World Academy for the Future of Women’s oath.

I’d spent all day in meetings with the WAFW’s leadership yesterday.  The day started at 10am with the Project Leaders.

Jerrie drives home the message of “Must Be Present to Win” for this year’s Academy

Jerrie drives home the message of “Must Be Present to Win” for this year’s Academy

Each WAFW member (both from the Women’s Academy and the Men’s Academy for the Future of Women) must be involved in a project that focuses on one of the eight UN Millennium Goals.  Our first meeting of the day began with those that have taken the reigns for these projects that were started by previous WAFW members.  There was even one young woman that is a first year academy member, but had volunteered on a project last year.  She applied to WAFW, and is now the leader for the project she’d worked on.  It was remarkable to see these women- women that I know a year ago would not have stood up and talked about their accomplishments at all, do so confidently and with voices that filled the room.

Cecilia stands to present on what her group that deals with HIV/AIDS prevention is working with.

Cecilia stands to present on what her group that deals with HIV/AIDS prevention is working with.

As the day progressed, we worked with the Advanced Academy Members, who’s understanding of their leadership was deeper and wider.  Their answers to Jerrie’s questions were full of insights and awakenings they’d had during their internships over the summer.  They not only took internships over the summer- while many of their friends went on holiday or returned to spend time with their much-missed families- they watched their bosses and fellow employees very closely.  “I learned that the key to leadership is to just be myself.  But really be myself” one of the members said.  The academy had given her the confidence to forge her own path and find students to tutor to get more pocket money when she found herself in a financial pinch.  “I wouldn’t have thought of those possibilities before the academy” she’d told me on a walk the day before.  “I would have stayed in that place where I wasn’t happy and wasn’t doing what was good for my future, just because I didn’t know that I could do something else. Now I know that.”

The next two-hour block belonged to the Academy in Action.  Jerrie seems absolutely tireless.  Kristine’d reached her limit by now.  I kept going.  I feel like I could just follow Jerrie around all the time and watch everything she does.  She’s totally who I want to be when I grow up.  When I met her during my facilitator’s training, I told my friends “I’ve met Baba Yaga!  And if I can complete the tasks she sets before me, I’ll have the Light of the Ancients!”  I still feel that way.  The students clearly feel the same.  They want to soak up everything she has to offer- and the students that have reached the level of Academy in Action show the fruits of doing just that.  They think deeply about their own development and what that means to their leadership—but the mark of their maturity as leaders is showing: they’re concerned about how to develop those around them.

By the 3rd year and the Academy in Action, the Men’s Academy and Women’s academy are combined.

By the 3rd year and the Academy in Action, the Men’s Academy and Women’s academy are combined.

The Advanced Academy meeting ended with a member opening the discussion of “What do we do about those Academy members that are not excellent? How will we treat this issue?”  Some answered that all should be excellent.  She persisted.  “Yes, we should all be excellent. So what do we do when people are not excellent?  If we do not have something to do when people are not excellent, we won’t get everyone to excellence.”  I loved that she persisted.  I love that these students have a place where they feel free to persist.  To not only speak up, but to continue to speak up when their point isn’t taken with the gravitas they know it deserves.  I asked them what they did with themselves in the moments when they weren’t excellent.  What was wrong that they weren’t performing their best?  What did they do about it?  If they thought about this, then they would have their answers on how to inspire their teammates to excellence when they weren’t living up to their potential.

To end the day, there was a meeting with the office staff.  These students have really stepped up and taken on tremendous responsibility.  These are volunteer positions.  Many of them have worked in the campus president’s office, or had other positions, and now they devote their time to WAFW.  Their level of commitment is inspiring.  The discussions we had a bout the different leadership styles as well as how you stand in your authority while simultaneously standing in another’s shoes made me so proud of them, and so honored to be here and be a part of this organization.

After each of the meetings, the students approached me requesting other meetings.

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Even with the pressure of putting on the opening ceremony this evening, I had meetings about translation, media plans, setting up newsletters.

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They also moved me into a new room in the guest wing of Peter Hall. I don’t know why I’d been so resistant to moving… the students were right- it is a much nicer room and much more comfortable and home-y.  Isn’t that so often the way it is? The thing we’re resisting is actually the thing we’re trying to create…

At the end of the ceremony tonight, the front was rushed as students looked to sign up with the projects they’d like to taste first.

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The first years will be working with a different project each month until December, when they’ll need to choose one.  The second years can stay in the project they’d been working with or try a new one.  All are encouraged to try on different things to find their passion.  And the message of the night was successfully delivered – a consistent thread in almost everyone that got on stage—change doesn’t come from others, it comes from you.

“Be the change you want to see in the world.”  The World Academy for the Future of Women is teaching both men and women to have that be the basis of their leadership.  How different would the world be if all those in leadership positions took this approach?

Fun Lovin’ Criminals are singing “Its you, its you, its always been you and its always been in you” as I write this.  Perfect ending to an amazing day—and we haven’t even started yet!

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