Hello. My name is Andrew Miller, and this is my fourth year at Mercersburg.
While I have wanted to give a Community Gathering talk for some time, I must admit that, until about four weeks ago, I had no idea what I wanted to talk about. No subject readily came to mind -- I haven't had a deep personal tragedy, my life at home is rather mundane, I didn't gain an amazingly new perspective from my travels, I have no passion for the performing or visual arts, nor do I have a major issue to deal with. In short, I feel that I am rather boring.
But I do have one major passion that, while not obvious, seems to loom over everything I do -- Boy Scouts. I admit that most people don't think of me as the camping / hiking / whitewater rafting type of person, but, really, I am. Boy Scouts has provided me with a way of trying new things, developing life skills, meeting new people, and a way of life. And when I say a way of life, I mean a way of life. There are four things that govern all my actions: the Scout Oath, Law, Motto, and Slogan. Perhaps the two most important are the Law: A scout is Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful, Friendly, Courteous, Kind, Obedient, Cheerful, Thrifty, Brave, Clean, and Reverent; and the Motto, the well known "Be Prepared." Every action I take, every decision I make, is based on those two maxims. I'm still far from perfect, but perfection is what is demanded, and, eventually, though I will never get close enough, I will get closer than I am now.
I believe that the most important point of the Scout Law is the second point: "A scout is Loyal." And that belief has taken me down a path taken by few others. Every summer, I help staff an advanced junior leader training course offered by the Atlanta Area Council. This year, I have overall responsibility for it. But why would I fly from Mercersburg to Atlanta once a month for four months during the school year to prepare for one week during the summer? I don't spend much time at home over those weekends; I don't see any of my friends who don't work with me at the camp. The answer is simple: I do it because I feel a sense of responsibility, a direct result of "A scout is Loyal." I have a fierce loyalty towards the Boy Scouts, not because the Boy Scouts are some form of cult, but because it has given me so much. It has taught me how to be a leader, how to interact with people, how to get things done, and how to adapt to difficult circumstances. And because it has given me so much, I want to give back to it, to help other scouts have the same wonderful experience I had, to help them develop to their highest potential as a leader. And I do mean develop; people do not become leaders overnight. It takes training, hard work, and practice to be a leader, for leadership just does not happen by accident.
My personal belief is that a good leader serves as an example to others while performing his vested duties. Words that characterize a leader include integrity, honor, loyalty, and involvement. Perhaps the most important of those words, to me, is, besides loyalty, integrity. As a leader, you must hold yourself up as an example to others. The phrase "Do what I say and not what I do" simply doesn't work in any society, unless you are a totalitarian dictator. And integrity is a characteristic which we find to be lacking in many of our leaders. From the President of the United States to some student leaders at schools like Mercersburg, the characteristics defined by integrity are getting scarce and few and far between. We need leaders with integrity, for, without integrity, you're more of a boss than a leader.
And there is, I believe, a big difference between a boss and a leader. But what is that difference? A boss demands respect; a leader earns respect. A boss assigns the task; a leader sets the pace. A boss shows who is wrong; a leader shows what is wrong. A boss depends on authority; a leader depends on goodwill. A boss is not a leader, and a leader is not a boss.
But back to the part about integrity.
Having integrity does not mean that a leader can't disagree with the rules. In fact, a student leader is the best person to disagree with the rules. But it is the way the leader goes about changing the rules that counts. A deep sense of loyalty to society, another characteristic, dictates that the leader work within the established structure to change the status quo. Now, at Mercersburg, we're fairly lucky -- we don't have to worry about discrimination, segregation, or wars; to simplify things greatly, it seems that our biggest worry at this point in time is the Drug and Alcohol policy, a policy formulated both to comply with the law and to protect us. Hence the student leader doesn't break the rules he disagrees with, nor does he flaunt his actions if he does break them. The student leader realizes that a society without rules is nonfunctional, and, realizing that, understands that breaking the rules undermines the society, leading it to anarchy. Hence, as a student leader, I do my best to support all rules, whether or not I agree with them, while, at the same time, making my best effort to change rules I believe to be wrong.
But let us not forget that leadership is service to others. It is not a privilege, it is not a right, it is a responsibility heavily intertwined with duty. Too many of us, for example, seem to forget that there is more to being a prefect than the refrigerator in the room or the automatic table proctorship. When we are chosen as a leader, we inherit three things: authority, responsibility, and accountability. Authority is the right to make decisions; responsibility is the assignment for achieving a goal; and accountability is the acceptance of success or failure.
All these responsibilities and risks should not prevent anyone from giving back, and they do not prevent me from giving back. I give back to Scouting because it has given me so much. And because it has given me so much, I feel the responsibility to give back to it. It is as if the choice were no longer mine -- I have benefitted so much, therefore I must give back, so that others may reap the same benefits as I have.
This same line of reasoning applies to my life here at Mercersburg. I ended up doing a lot this year. But why? Why do, or did, as the case may be, I do all that I do? Is it because, since day one, I've been thinking about how to make myself seem really attractive to colleges? Is it because I always want to be in the spotlight? Is it because I feel that, if I can't do it, no one else can? No, it is none of those reasons. I do what I do because I feel inside me a deep rooted conviction that I have to give back to the community, and leadership is the best way I know how. I coordinated the UNICEF campaign because there are people out there who need our help, people who don't deal with our questions of "What will I wear tomorrow" but rather with "Will I eat tomorrow?" I do finances for the senior class because it is a way I can contribute to the success of my class. I've done more things than I am able to remember at the same time, yet I am glad I did every single one of them. Yes, there are times when I wish I hadn't agreed to do something. There are times when I wish that someone else had been chosen to be in charge. But I also know that if I didn't do my job to the best of my ability, someone else would have suffered, be it the person whose load I was alleviating by assisting on some task, or the typos that I catch before they embarrass someone in print.
And another part of me believes that, if I don't do it, who will? Student Leadership at Mercersburg is, with the exception of the Irving/Marshall societies, not all that it can be, both in terms of what gets accomplished and who accomplishes it, or rather, doesn't accomplish it. I will be the first to admit that Student Council hasn't done very much this year. As a member of it, yes, it is partly my fault. But let's forget about blame. What could we as a school, and we as individuals, have done in terms of Student Council? How can each and every one of us be more involved in our student government? But it is also important to look at the leaders no longer with us. What went wrong? What could they have done to avoid leading themselves, and others, down that path? What could we as individuals have done? As a school? When we lose a student, it hurts all of us. But when we lose a leader, it hurts us even more. The people upon whom we depended for leadership let us down, leaving, in some cases, a power vacuum. One bad decision made others' lives harder, all because of a mistake. And it leaves an emotional vacuum; people whom we care about depart, sometimes for good. That has happened to me too many times, and I desperately want to prevent that from happening to anyone here, at the school I love so dearly.
But just because a leader made a mistake does not eliminate his status as a leader. Worst case, it might cast the person as a bad leader; best case, it might not matter at all.
Many people believe leaders to be infallible. On the contrary, only bosses are infallible, or, at least, act like they are. Leaders, on the other hand, are, and should be, fallible. It is difficult to relate to people who never seem to make mistakes, or who cover them up. I find that, occasionally, I am confronted with this myth of infallibility, like this one example: About a month ago, I was up in the Desktop Publishing Lab, working on the Newspaper. Out of nowhere came what, to me, seemed like a very random question. I will exaggerate slightly and say that it was "What is the capital of Burkina Faso," which I now know is Ouagadougou. Not knowing so at the time, I replied that I, quote, "didn't know." This apparently wasn't acceptable, as the person replied "well, you should." A bit surprised at the response, I asked why. The answer I got left much unsaid, yet revealed quite a bit: "Because you're Andrew Miller." For those of you who haven't realized it yet: I am not infallible, I don't know everything. I'm human; I make mistakes. But why does this myth of infallibility build up between those who lead and those who are led? I would argue that it is because the idea of a leader being wrong is not very common. However, whether done consciously or not, the gap in the relationship between the leader and those being led is difficult for me, at least, to bear. Sometimes, when confronted with this gap, I feel that people either find me a recluse who would much rather be alone or a person who, because of the position I hold, they would never even consider approaching with mild conversation, let alone serious problems. And it is difficult because it means that, quite often, unfortunately, most of my frustration, anxiety, worry, etcetera, can't be shared with anyone, save myself.
But neither frustration nor loneliness so far have prevented me from taking on positions of responsibility, and there is one very simple reason why: I enjoy it. Being President of Irving was the highlight of my time here; I truly enjoyed each and every minute of working on the Newspaper, or proofreading the Yearbook. I enjoy being a prefect on Third Floor Fowle where I can watch the ninth graders mature and grow with each passing day. I enjoy giving back to the school; otherwise, I wouldn't feel the same deep sense of duty I currently feel.
I take on positions of responsibility because I feel that it is my responsibility. But I will admit that it gets hard at times. Mercersburg needs dedicated student leaders; she needs people who will get things done, do them to the best of their ability, and do them while serving as an example to others.
In one month, two days, I will leave Mercersburg. It will not be easy, for I love this place dearly, and the thought of leaving it is painful. I have spent four wonderful years here, years where I have learned the value of having strong leaders, and the bitterness that comes with weak ones. But I must leave; I can't be a Post-Grad with a Mercersburg Diploma. But when I leave, I will worry, as I am prone to do, about the state of leadership at this school. I see so much wasted potential daily, potential which is better spent on productive things instead of hurtful things. Sometimes I feel as if the school will fall apart if that trend continues. That trend cannot continue, and I don't think it will, as Mercersburg has a small group of dedicated student leaders. But that group needs to grow in order for Student Leadership at Mercersburg to be all that it can be.
I challenge the classes of 2001, 2002, and 2003 to lead Mercersburg into the new Millennium with courage, strength, devotion, integrity, and wisdom. But most of all, I challenge each and every one of you to give back to the community, no matter in what way, be it drama, art, or leadership. But I especially urge you to develop your leadership skills to the fullest. Mr. Lenfest has just given us $35 Million, showing us how much he believes in us. Let us prove to him that his trust is well founded.
And when you think of leading your group, remember what Confucius said of a good leader: "When the day is done, the job completed, the group says 'we did it ourselves.'"
And while Mr. Smith plays the carillon, the seniors will lead us out.