Working in small groups, students identified pending public policy issues that had meaning for them personally. This was the start of a four-hour Leadership Lab: The Power of Public Service offered through the Center for Leadership.
Helping me lead students through the process of thoroughly researching and preparing their positions on pending legislation was St. Luke’s parent Michael Gordon, Principal and Chief Executive of the Gordon Group—a firm that works with a full roster of philanthropies, foundations, and socially responsible businesses.
At the back of students’ minds as they crafted their presentations was the knowledge that this was not just an exercise—two government leaders were on their way to St. Lukes to hear their presentations. US Representative Jim Himes and State Senator Will Haskell were coming to listen to students lobby for public policy change.
As the Director of the Center for Leadership—home of Find your voice. Make a difference—it was quite a moment. Our students spoke confidently, knowledgeably and persuasively about justice reform, school safety, and climate change. After each team presented, the representatives reflected on the students’ arguments, pointed out their strengths as advocates, made suggestions to strengthen their proposals and then shared their own positions on the proposed legislation.
In one example, after listening to our student advocate for the Safe To Tell Act (promoting anonymous school threat reporting programs), Representative Himes said he agreed with the concept but brought up a key concern he’d heard from others— how do you stop false reporting? He then asked students how they would respond and told them, “Part of good advocacy is to anticipate the pushback.”
In another example, a team spoke in favor of the Green New Deal (proposed legislation to address climate change and economic inequality). Representative Himes applauded the urgency and personal connection reflected in their presentation. “Emotional values,” he noted, “and compelling stories are important for advocates.”
State Senator Haskell asked students to “let this be the start of your advocacy” and urged all the teams to continue the work they had begun in Leadership Lab.
After the course wrapped, Brody Menzies ‘20 commented that this class was “unlike anything I’ve ever done. It was really interesting to be able to speak directly to representatives and learn from them about how to lobby politicians.” Moli Ma ‘21 added, “I’ve been trying to get to Representative Himes so that I could get him on board with the Green New Deal. The points he made in response to our position cleared up a lot of things and gave me a focus on what I should do next to pursue my interest in fighting climate change.”
See more: Photo gallery of Leadership Lab images.
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