“Do not go where the path may lead; go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.” This quote, attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson, was cited by LaTanya Buck, dean for diversity and inclusion at Princeton, in her opening remarks at the Community House Youth Leadership Summit, held at the Carl A. Fields Center for Equality and Cultural Understanding on Friday, November 8. Dean Buck credited this quote from Emerson with inspiring her leadership style.
The Youth Leadership Summit invited select high school students who have demonstrated aptitude in leadership to discuss the importance of leadership, how to build leadership skills, as well as how to guide their careers. Students hailed from schools in both New Jersey and Pennsylvania including Bucks County Community College, Hamilton High School West, Harry S. Truman High School, Lawrence High School, Neshaminy High School, Princeton High School, Stuart Country Day School, The Hun School of Princeton, Trenton Restorative Academy, and West Windsor-Plainsboro High School North. The inaugural event was the first in a series of celebrations to honor the 50th anniversary of Community House, which was formed in 1969 by undergraduate students and continues to stand with families in the Princeton community and support the academic success and social-emotional wellness of underrepresented youth.
Dean Buck gave one of the first speeches in which she invited students to share what they think of when they think about leadership. Words such as “strong,” “bravery,” and “courage” were suggested by the students, and Dean Buck also invited the students to broaden how they thought about leadership: “As we talk about leadership I wanted to talk about it in a context of diversity and inclusion," she said, and asked the students to consider how they might integrate these different concepts together.
Charlotte Collins, associate director at the Pace Center and staff adviser to Community House, also addressed the students, and recommended that they “ask questions, actively participate, connect with people you don’t already know, and have fun.” She also highlighted that their presence at the conference was valuable due to the “ideas you will share, and the connections you will make. Your presence here matters.”
The summit continued after these speeches with a massive game of rock, paper scissors to energize the participants, who then were able to listen to a panel of Princeton students discuss their personal leadership roles and stories. The panel included Kelton Chastulik ’21, Nathan Poland ’20, and Jaylin Lugardo ’20, who all spoke about how they ended up in their current positions, and were asked by the participants about the challenges they had faced and what advice they might give to aspiring leaders. Chastulik discussed how Princeton made him realize that being a leader is “more than a title,” but that it also can’t mean displaying too much authority. Leadership for him, he said, is “allowing people to have a voice and give them that space to do so.”
Lugardo spoke about this concept in the context of her work advocating for immigrants and assisting first-generation, low- income students. “Be an active listener, and be receptive toward ideas” she recommended. She also explained her tendency to utilize horizontal leadership, which she described as using titles, “but in terms of responsibilities and say and voice, those are all equal.”
Poland expressed agreement with this idea, stressing that leadership is not about being in charge, but rather “ To be a leader is to be listening… and decentering yourself, and centering other people.” Poland also described how his involvement with Pace Center student organization Students for Prison Education and Reform (SPEAR), as well as other programs, had made him proud to break a mentality of political apathy that he feels sometimes characterizes Princeton’s campus, and that a key realization he had through his volunteering is that “there were people doing the work before you got there and there will be people doing it after. We are part of a longer chain of people that are in the struggle."
Chastulik and Lugardo also emphasized what activities they were most proud of, with Chastulik mentioning his work organizing a book drive in his hometown and Lugardo detailing how she assists underprivileged students in the college application process.
The panel was followed by a resume building workshop and then a speech by Rochelle Calhoun, the Vice President for Campus Life, over lunch. The afternoon programming included a campus tour, an entrepreneurship workshop, and a discussion with Darleny Cepin, the director of student life at Mathey College, about leadership and wellness.
Overall, the conference was an illustration of the great potential that young leaders have and the importance of resources and skills that can assist them through their personal leadership journeys. As Collins reminded the students in her address: “Community House is committed to supporting each of you as you continue to explore what leadership can be, what leadership means to you, and how you will embody leadership now and in the future.”