The phrase “be infinite” was plastered everywhere around the University of British Columbia's (UBC) campus on Jan. 11, where more than 1,300 delegates from across the country gathered to participate in the annual UBC Student Leadership Conference (SLC).
I was one of a handful of high school students who was able to participate in the event which challenged me to think about leadership — a skill many employers are looking for today in graduates of every stripe.
This year, the conference consisted of a series of speakers and interactive workshops aimed to help students develop their leadership skills and learn how to thrive within their communities. It's a natural extension of changes to our education strategy, which is moving away from learning by rote and toward graduating youth who are self-reliant, critical thinkers, and who focus on inquiry, creativity, problem solving, innovation, teamwork and collaboration, cross-cultural understanding, and technological literacy.
The SLC has become one of Canada’s largest student-run conferences and is a unique opportunity for UBC students and other delegates to expand their individual leadership potential and apply those skills within their campus community.
With 100-plus workshops, 12-featured presenters, two keynotes, and 12 highlighted projects, this year proved how significantly the conference has grown since the first SLC in 2003.
The day started out with opening keynote Peter van Stolk, successful social media maverick and founder of Jones Soda.
“What does leadership mean to you?” Stolk began, as he looked out at the crowd of eager students seated in the Chan Centre for Performing Arts.
It was then that he began to explore the different characteristics that make a great leader.
Stolk remained on the stage for more than an hour telling the story of his life and reflecting on how he was able to achieve personal breakthroughs in his field. He asked delegates to search within themselves to understand what drives their spirit, and apply that fuel to their communities.
When SLC co-chairs Erica Baker and Holly Dysserinck came to the stage, they encouraged all participants to try and find at least one thing to walk away with at the end of the day; I walked away with three.
First, leadership isn’t black and white. You don’t have to be leading troops into battle or making world-altering decisions to be considered a leader; nor do you have to stand up in front of a large crowd and speak words of wisdom.
Second, never refer to anyone as "them." You may have been taught that everyone is either a leader or a follower, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Leadership qualities can be found in the most unexpected people, just take a look around.
And last, but not least, kindness goes a long way. It might go without saying, but a little positive encouragement once in a while will have more of an impact than you might imagine.
It dawned on me during the closing keynote, when Olympic athlete and aboriginal activist Waneek Horn-Miller had the entire crowd up on its feet in applause, what the phrase to "be infinite" really means — in order to change the world, you must first find the ability to make change within yourself.
No matter who you are, or what you are trying to accomplish, to “be infinite” you must discover the inspiration that fuels your ideas, and challenge yourself to be the best leader that you can be.
I encourage all who can to attend next year and see what you walk away with at the end of the day.
Lauren McIvor is a Grade 12 student at Whistler Secondary School.