As a part of Principle 9, shared leadership, we aim to emphasize the crucial role students play in character education initiatives. One way we can value students’ contributions is by providing them the opportunity to share their own thoughts. Franchesca Ramirez, the author of this post, is a member of the Milton Hershey School Class of 2016.

We struggle to define a leader by their qualities alone because all leaders are uniquely composed of their own set of skills and traits. 

I have been blessed with my own unique composition over the span of my time at Milton Hershey School. I always had leadership potential, but the ignition of that flame was a result of the time and effort of various adults in my life. Individually, the teachers and advisors in my life at MHS have contributed their own efforts in ultimately making me the leader I am becoming, I will forever be in debt to these people I call mentors for the character they’ve inspired in me. For this reason, I was inspired to serve.

Service requires the giving of time, which, in an era where technology is used to make our lives easier, is increasingly valuable. While perusing my newly found desire to serve, I’ve learned how easy it can be to find ways to donate my time and concern. For students like me, meeting with another student to tutor them is practical, but inspiring them through your own experiences takes it one step further. Humbling myself to share how I’ve overcome similar challenges, or even how I continue striving to overcome them, allows me to make a greater impact on my peers. Serving my community has given me the opportunity to show my peers that they can do the same and take joy in assisting others. Realizing the impact I can make by assisting someone, and inspiring another to do the same is joyous. This concept of paying it forward and inspiring others to do the same is the mentality that can change an entire community by making it a cooperative and more productive place.Paying forward what I’ve been given is my way of providing a return on the investment my mentors made in me. Like business investors, I am certain that those who mentored me would be disheartened to see their efforts wasted. I am the investment paying the gifts forward. Serving others through leadership has enabled me to show these investors, my mentors, how much I value what they’ve devoted. Typically we choose to show our appreciation with well wrapped gifts or through words on a greeting card. The more money we spent and the words we choose to write are meant to represent our level of gratitude. In this instance, it holds true that actions speak louder than words. In my case, helping others the same way I was helped through my challenges demonstrates that their investments were worth the time.

My passion to serve through leadership was not inspired all at once, but rather over a short period of time and by several factors. I first became involved with the student government association of my high school as a junior. It was unusual for a student to become a member of the executive branch, having joined that late, so I took pride in the privilege.

Many of my peers in the student government had been involved with it for a much longer time, but I noticed that a handful of them did not take their leadership position very seriously. This inspired me to raise the bar. I began making a great effort to conduct myself as a role model in every aspect of my life whether that meant in the classroom, on the field, or in our residential setting. A second significant factor that inspired my passion to lead was a result of another event. At around the same time I joined the student government, I remember overhearing a senior complaining about the responsibility her class had been given. A staff member challenged the senior class to step up as leaders and be role models to the underclassmen, but this specific student didn’t feel that this was a duty she was responsible for. Hearing this student say this upset me because I believed that serving as leader and striving to leave a legacy for the underclassmen was the least she could do to show her appreciation. I had learned to appreciate the tremendous opportunities I had been given and was driven to express my gratitude through leadership.

Leading through means of service has been my greatest pride and challenge. Being given so much leaves me feeling that my “thank you” is insufficient, which is why I will continue striving to spend my productively by sharing it. Every one of my small acts will profit exponentially as long as I am able to inspire others to do the same.