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When I was first accepted into the Presidential Leadership Academy, I will admit I was not thrilled to hear that I would have to write a blog every week for the remainder of my college career. But alas, here I sit almost exactly three years later as I prepare to write my final blog as a college student and member of the Presidential Leadership Academy, and I find myself extremely nostalgic and slightly sad. It turns out that even though I consider myself a numbers person who is more mathematically inclined, this blog and the opportunity to put my thoughts and beliefs into words have often been one of the highlights of my week.

As I look back on my blogs I realize that they may not have always been the most eloquent, they may not have always dealt with the popular and controversial topics of politics, social issues, or other issues in the news, I mean I did write a blog about a waffle one. However, despite this, I do believe that these blogs have been genuine. Each blog is a reflection of who I am, what I value, what motivates me, and what I am passionate about – which was often teaching, education, learning, my students, my family, and my faith. On the surface it may not seem that these areas are an outlet for the critical thinking skills about decision making and gray areas that we have learned about in PLA. But digging deeper, when I think about what my motivation and driving force in all aspects of my life, it is people, so why not apply these skills to situations dealing with people, especially those that are within my direct “circle of influence” as a leader?

Now that being said, I am left to answer the question that I have been thinking about for the past few days, what is it that I want to share with the PLA community in this final blog?

In PLA tradition I will leave you with a statement that falls into “the grey area”: Be genuine and stay true to who you are, while being open to others and the differences you have that can spur you to grow and open your eyes.

Yes these may seem contradiction, but I think a bit more explanation will clarify things. Let’s focus in on the first part of this statement – be genuine and stay true to who you are. I spent a significant portion of the last few years trying to be who I thought others wanted me to be, rather than who I was created to be. Now I don’t want to use my life as an example, rather I want to give you a glimpse into my classroom.

Each day I walk into a classroom full of juniors and seniors in high school, and while most of my time is spent teaching them, I also have the opportunity to watch them interact with their peers as well as interact with me. So often I observe my students hyperconscious of how they present themselves, what they are wearing, what they talk about, how they talk about things, making sure their jokes and comments get a laugh or gain the attention of their peers. These students are often striving to be something they are not – they are trying to be what they think their peers will think is “cool.”

On the other hand I also get to have interactions with these same students on an individual basis. It is in these individual interactions that I often get to see a different side of my students who are often putting up a front for their classmates. In these interactions I get to see a glimpse of who these students are, their genuine interest in learning, their desire to succeed, their respect for me, their respect for their peers, and their true passions and interests. It is these moments that bring me so much joy, seeing students for who they are, and seeing them be comfortable with who that person is.

This is where I have come to find myself – comfortable with who I am, being genuine and sharing that with my friends, family, and students each day. This is where I would hope you find yourself – learning to value who you are, being confident and comfortable with who you are, and being genuinely you.

Now to the second part of this statement: Be open to others and the differences you have, using them to spur you to grow and open your eyes.

While the PLA has taught me many things, when I reflect upon my experience what I most value is being thrown into an environment where I was surrounded by people different than who I am. I will be honest and say that upon entering the PLA I was fairly closed-minded in many different aspects. It took some time, but eventually after many classes with me peers I began to see that these differences did not have to be barriers, but rather through surrounding myself with a variety of people I can have my eyes opened to new ideas.

Where this gets tricky is combining the two ideas. And I don’t have a surefire way to do so, and that leaves me somewhat unsettled. However, in my short time so far in life, I have learned that just because there is not a direct path on how to do something, that doesn’t mean it is not worth doing. Even though I don’t perfectly know how to balance staying genuine to myself and allowing others to challenge and grow me, I put myself in situations where both are required. I continually remind myself who I am, but also remind myself how much room I have to grow and expand my view.

So with that, that terribly vague piece of advice, I finish this final blog reminding you to love who you are and be who you are, when you do so it is refreshing to you and to those around you, while also letting their genuineness refresh and challenge you.

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