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Four Years at the Mount

For this month, our writers will discuss someone who they consider to be a role model, leader or hero. We hope you remember who your role model is, and feel inspired to give them a thank you!

Role Models

March 2016

Gentle Assertiveness

Michael Kenney Jr.
MSN Class of 2019

I remember standing on the preacherís pulpit, knees shaking, ready to deliver my Student Council inauguration speech to the entire parochial middle school and every camera-ready parent in the audience. I recited the annual presidentís address, full of leadership platitudes and fluffy quotes about empowerment.

"Leaders are not afraid to stand up for what they believe in," I stammered, feeling like a hypocrite because of my own stage fright.

As I rattled off the names of the newly elected class representatives, however, I grew increasingly smug. "...Stephanie CrowleyÖDaniel Rodriguez..." I said, letting each name roll off my tongue slowly and clearly, so to extrapolate the time I could spend basking in a blithe glory. I was a leader. I had the fancy title and shiny badge to prove it.

I closed with same line as every former middle school president had, and the crowd applauded at their cue.

I felt a loose relation to all others affiliated with the term "leadership." Alexander the Great, Henry Ford, and now, me, I thought as I flashed my braces for the camera ready mothers.

Though satirical, I think that my once amateurish misunderstanding of "leadership" is an easy trap to fall into. This misguided idea, that leadership is reserved for people with loquacious personalities and notable positions, dilutes the significance of the "everyday leader." Everyday leaders use their unique personalities and talents to inspire the best from the people and situations surrounding them without ever expecting and rarely receiving recognition.

Upon reflecting on the various everyday leaders in my life, I could not help but contrast my once misguided understanding of leadership with my eighth grade brotherís leadership style.

Ever since childhood, my younger brother, Jack, has embodied a distinctive leadership style. Jackís quiet confidence coupled with his genuine care for others exudes what I call a "gentle assertiveness." While the phrasing of "gentle assertiveness" may seem like a dichotomy, Jack demonstrates that gentleness and assertiveness effectively bring out the best in the people and situations surrounding him. He is not passive aggressive nor is he hesitant to command charge. Rather, his distinctive demeanor enables him to deliver his messages effectively without ever needing to falter to a jaded attitude.

Jackís leadership style has served him well, particularly in regard to his coaching. Even as a toddler, Jack could be found scribbling plays in his notebook or chalking down drills in our driveway so to design ways he could guide the athletes around him success. Jack has always inspired excellence without ever having to lose his cool. One story puts it in perspective pretty well.

Picture this: Itís a breezy autumn day, and leaves strewn across a field where a team of adolescent boys practice soccer. Amidst the teenagers marches a younger boy, Jack, who is about half their age and half their size. He scuttles around the young men as they complete their passing drills, commenting occasionally with a "Good job" or "Get a little bit more power behind that ball." Jack then spots one player intentionally rocket the ball far beyond his teammate and laughs at his own antics. Jack places his hands on his hips like an old man trapped in a youngster's body. With his clipboard in hand and whistle strung around his neck, he beelines towards the teenager.

"Hey, you! What do you think youíre doing?" Jack asks. The older boy laughs, regarding the question as a form of cheeky amusement. "I donít find it funny," Jack says, stone faced. "Give me five pushups." The playerís expression deflated, and he complied. The pushups are done haphazardly, so Jack orders for five more. "Fool around one more time and you may become very comfortable down there in pushup position," the child says in a tone that is both gentle and assertive.

Jack has always been confident that gentle assertiveness is the most effective coaching style. Shortly after he "retired" from coaching soccer, eight year old Jack wrote a letter of advice to the University of Notre Dameís head football coach, Brian Kelly. Kellyís Fighting Irish team battled back-to-back 8-5 seasons -- an equivocal record for a highly talented team representing a football mecca. While sports analysts focussed mainly on play-by-play analysis and scoreboard results, Jack honed in on the post-play interactions between Kelly and his team. Jack felt that Kellyís then hot tempered leadership corroded the teamís morale more than it spurred success. Nevertheless, Jack penned a letter to Kelly in which he described ways Kelly could adopt a more composed and effective leadership style.

Jack, who serves as an assistant coach for a middle school boysí basketball team, relates to John Wooden. Wooden, the legendary UCLA basketball coach who led his team to ten NCAA National Championship titles in twelve years, never adopted an irascible coaching style.Instead, Wooden geared his energy towards creating a positive environment, and he consequently earned positive results. Woodenís players did not respect him out of fear. Rather, they succeeded because Wooden lived by the expectation he set. Wooden established a blueprint for success which he called the "Pyramid of Success." This layout describes 15 leadership qualities that guided Woodenís team both on and off the court.

Jack takes these characteristics to heart, and in particular lives by Woodenís lesson, "Control of your organization begins with control of yourself. Be disciplined." Jackís respectability stems from his discipline. His team knows that he expects and deserves a standard of excellence, so Jack never needs to falter to an ostentatious attitude.

His gentle assertiveness demonstrates that leaders do not need to be the most vocal to make the loudest impact.

Read other articles by Michael Kenney Jr.


"If you want to do it, you can do it."

Sarah Muir
MSM Class of 2018

The woman that today is known by the rest of the world as the famous investigative journalist, Nellie Bly, was born Elizabeth Jane Cochran on May 5, 1864. Her birthplace, Cochran's Mills, Pennsylvania, was founded by her father, Michael Cochran who died tragically in 1870, leaving no will and his family practically penniless. To help her now widowed mother, Bly attended Indiana Normal School, a small college in Pennsylvania, to study to become a teacher. However, the financial state of her family caused her to hold off on her hopes for higher education. She and her mother moved to Pittsburg(h), where they ran a boarding house.

In 1882, at age 18, Bly jumpstarted her career in journalism. Erasmus Wilson, a writer for The Pittsburg Dispatch had published a piece that essentially portrayed the ideal woman as a homemaker and nothing else, calling the idea of the working woman a "monstrosity." Miss Bly strongly disagreed and fashioned a fierce response. Her letter caught the attention of George Madden, the managing editor of the newspaper who offered her a job, which she accepted. Thus, Nellie Bly came into being.

In 1885, Bly worked as a reporter, earning $5 a week. Many of her articles focused on the suffrage movement and flaws of sexist principles. She became most well known for her undercover and investigative work. Throughout her life, she called for changes to labor laws so that they would protect working "girls" and sought to reform divorce laws which, at the time, favored men. She worked for some time as a foreign correspondent in Mexico until she exposed the political corruption there and was expelled from the country. In 1888, she would write a book detailing her experiences there entitled, Six Months in Mexico. She left the paper when her editors began to place her on tedious assignments and moved her work to the womenís section. By 1887, at age 23, she moved to New York City and joined the newspaper, New York World.

While working for the New York World, Joseph Pulitzer sent her on assignment to write her famous exposť on the ill-reputed asylum for the insane on Blackwell Island, which has since become Roosevelt Island. In order to expose the truth of the institution, she convinced others of her mental illness and was committed into the institution as a patient. She stayed there for ten days and the series of events that would befall her would later be published under the title, Ten Days in a Mad House.

This publication would bring to light the neglect and physical abuse suffered by the patients at the hands of their caretakers. It would bring about an investigation into not only Blackwellís Asylum, but other institutions as well as cause enhancements in health care. Her investigative journalism did not end there! She went on to write articles featuring the treatment individuals faced in New York sweatshops, jails, and factories along with exposing corruption in the state legislature.

In 1889, the spotlight was back on Bly, when she set out to break the world record set by the fictional character Phileas Fogg, of Jules Vernís Around the World in 80 Days. She would beat the fictitious record, completing her global trip in 72 days, 6 hours, 11 minutes and 14 seconds. This trip bolstered Blyís fame and she published her travels in 1890 in a book entitled Around the World in 72 Days.

In 1895 when she was 30 years old, Bly married Robert Seaman, a millionaire industrialist who was 40 years her senior. He died in 1905 and she ran his business, the Iron Clad Manufacturing Company, where she showed more of her ingenuity by inventing the steel barrel that has since become the model for the 55-gallon drum, still in use today. She turned the business she inherited into a multi-million dollar company and treated her workers extremely well, providing them with gymnasiums, staffed libraries, and health care. These luxuries, however, chipped away at her fortune, leaving her in a precarious financial situation. She lived in Australia during World War I and eventually made it back to America in 1919 and returned to work at the New York Journal in 1920, reviving her writing career. Unfortunately, two years later she died of phenomena at age 57.

Though she was not the first, Nellie Bly was a pioneer for women in journalism. She placed herself in dangerous situations to expose the injustice doled out to the disenfranchised. She sought to give a voice to those on the outer margins of society by uncovering the suffering of the poor and in doing what she loved, she brought about change.

Nellie Bly, along with so many other brave women, helped to lead the way for not only womenís rights, but also human rights as a whole. Without them, our society would not be where it is today. I firmly believe we need more people like Nellie Bly, people who search for the truth in the most unlikely places and seek to bring about change, no matter how impossible it seems. People that believe, "energy rightly applied and directed will accomplish anything."

Read other articles by Sarah Muir


Elevating Leadership

Leeanne Leary
Class of 2017

In the midst of all the happenings surrounding Mount St. Maryís right now, leadership seems to be an incredibly relevant topic. At the core of all of the media attention is President Newman who, regardless of each individualís opinion of him, is the leader of the university. His ideas, movements, and decisions all depict who he is as a leader and the leadership he has appointed under him. Heís being questioned by some, supported by others, and at the end of each day, he goes home as the president of my university, regardless of how I feel. And again, regardless of how I feel this has been the ultimate lesson in leadership.

Iíve had the opportunity over the past few years to be a part of some pretty incredible leadership programs and experiences here at the Mount, the first being ROTC. If you read regularly, youíll know that I joined ROTC my freshman year and in 16 short months will commission as a Second lieutenant into the U.S. Army. Iíve just recently been able to stand in front of a platoon and senior leadership and give directions without walking away with shaky hands.

I distinctly remember last spring at our annual JFTX (Joint Field Training Exercise) being absolutely terrified to age a year and be in charge of anything. We were in a training rotation and it was my platoonís turn to begin the tactical training exercise. It was below freezing and as a mere MSII, (sophomore) I spent a lot of time lying in a 360 security formation on the cold hard ground while the important people made all the decisions and did all of the planning in the middle. I was hungry, half bored and half grateful that I wasnít the one in charge.

Our PL and PSG had received a mission to retrieve equipment from an area specified to them. We were briefed on a very basic outline of what was about to happen and moved about 300 meters to where we then stopped and were put into a security halt so that our leadership could go on a leaders recon of the objective. We then laid in security for 30 minutes at which point our leaders returned and briefed us on their recon and the plan. The details are unimportant here; basically we were to go into an open area about 200 meters away and retrieve a significant amount of equipment.

We began our movement to the objective and almost immediately received "fire" from our notional enemy forces. At that moment chaos took over. We hadnít been expecting enemy activity, we hadnít been briefed on a plan, and our Platoon Sergeant was the first of us to be shot and killed. In that same moment, our Platoon Leader looked panicked. She looked from one subordinate leader to the next, trying to pass down information quickly but hadnít yet made a decision. She was not decided on whether we were going to retreat or return fire and the personnel in charge of that particular training lane looked at her saying

"You better make a decision, PL."

30 more seconds go by

"DECISION, PL"

Finally, she snapped back into focus and decided upon returning fire, quickly calling in her squad leaders and disseminating her decision.

In that moment she lost her best leader and was faced with a decision. It took a mere 90 seconds for her to react, but in those 90 seconds her platoon Ė myself included Ė hung in suspension, waiting. In that moment I simultaneously felt awful for our PL (who in reality was a junior in college who hadnít even been to camp yet and the lane supervisors were completely aware of this) and realized that only a single summer separated me from being in that very position.

In that moment I realized how crucial leadership really is. I also realized that a lot more goes into leadership than simply "supervising" or watching out for the people under you. I realized it takes quick, confident decision making and the ability and courage to stand by your decisions and see them through. I realized all the PowerPoint lectures in the world that we go through in class every week couldnít actually prepare her for that game time decision, only experience could. I realized how crucial and how helpful a little bit of confidence is.

In our AAR (After Action Review) at the culmination of the mission, I realized how utterly important it is as a developing leader to question everything around you and evaluate those leading you. This final lesson is one drilled into us as cadets studying and training to become officers: question everything. If we donít understand why something is being done a certain way, ask. If thereís a better way to get something done, question the method.

This doesnít work so well in the normal world, Iím sure most people canít go up to their boss in the office and question their methods directly without consequence, but in learning to lead what is more effective than evaluating leadership? Aside from experience, the answer is nothing.

This lesson has become more important in my everyday life in light of the recent happenings at the Mount and Iím writing about this particular lesson in leadership to urge the rest of you to take it into consideration each and every time you see something going wrong. As the events coined "turmoil" start to fade at the Mount, Iím even more grateful for the leadership training that has been provided to me by the same institution. From it Iíve learned lessons that go beyond the sphere of field training and for the first time have seeped into other areas of my life.

I am by no means an expert on, or even educated about, everything that has happened in the Presidentís office recently, but I do know this, if we continue to evaluate and question our leadership as a means to become better leaders ourselves, we will start to move in the right direction.

Whether you find President Newman, your personal boss, your church leaders, or any other person in charge to be right or wrong, the most important lesson Iíve learned is to fairly evaluate those in charge. If you find them to be right, they will have even more of your respect, and if you find that their ways differ from your own preferences, you will have a true platform for learning and developing.

Read other articles by Leeanne Leary


The Unsung Hero

Katie Powell
MSM Class of 2015

Hero. Role Model. Leader. When you read these words, a person comes to mind. Who is it? Is it a famous actor or singer, a historical figure, a friend? Do you think of someone you used to see as your idol, but has since fallen from your graces? Take a minute and think about it. What is special about them, if anything at all?

Now I want you to think about your mom. I mean this term loosely: think of the woman who raised you; maybe she is not your birth mother. It could be your grandmother, an adopted mother, an aunt, or even a father. Your mom is the person who cuddled you when you couldnít sleep at night. She sang to you, perhaps poorly, to ease your pain. She was there from the day you met her and she never left you.

Are your mom and your hero the same person? Because for me, they areóand I will tell you why that is how it ought to be.

Recently I have seen my mom go through some of the toughest months of her entire life, and through it all, her number one concern was my sister and me. In fact, I can almost guarantee that your mom has had something similar happen to her. It got me thinking and I realized that moms deserve much more credit than we often give them.

From the instant your mom saw you, she loved you. Whether she carried you in her womb or did not meet you until you were three years old, she loved you, perhaps even before she met you, and her left has never ceased since. As you grew up, your momís love evolved but never faded. Every time you screamed ĎI hate you,í she loved you. When you tried to run away, she loved you. When you failed your first test, and she was angry with you, she loved you. Even when you colored on the walls in Sharpie, she loved you. And she will continue to love you, unfailingly, forever.

She protects you fiercely. You have probably heard the story of the woman picking up a car to save her child underneath. Your mom has done this for you, at least metaphorically. I can remember many times when I was not strong enough to face something on my own, so my mom helped me out as my right hand man, and enforcer, only if I needed it. She watched me ride my bikeófive houses down either way, and sprinted like no other if I teetered off. She kissed the booboos and wiped the tears and sewed ripped clothes. She always had your back.

She loses countless hours of sleep over you. As a baby, you made sure your mom did not sleep, needing to eat every few hours. As a toddler, "Mommy wake up" was her alarm. Throughout elementary and middle school, she had to make sure you were up and ready to go before she even ate breakfast. When you were seventeen or so and you got your license and you would stay up past curfew, so did your mom. When you were twenty-one and going out with your friends until three am, somehow finding your way back to bed, your mom was up too. Honestly, I donít think my mom has ever stopped losing sleep over me. I doubt yours has, either.

Your mom let you fail. She let you procrastinate your science fair project till the last minute. Maybe she let you go on a date with the "bad boy" in high school. She let you stay up past your bedtime so you could watch a show. She didnít make you study all the time, and sometimes she didnít make you get ready early enough. But, when you were panicking about your project, she helped you finish it. When the bad boy broke your heart, she put it back together. She let you sleep in a little later if you were up too late. If you were running late for school, she helped you get ready. She let you fail. But then she made sure you still succeeded, with a new life lesson under your belt.

She pushed you to try new things, and encouraged you wholeheartedly. When I was nine, I had a neighbor who did color guard in high school, and I would watch her practice in her front yard. I told my mom I wanted to do it, and she told me that I couldónever mind that I had zero coordination or rhythm. Around the same time, the summer swim team was starting, and I said I would try it. I was not very athletic, and I wanted to quit after the first day. But my mom told me to stick out the summer. My mom was not raising a quitter. Twelve years later, I am one week away from my last competition as a Division one swimmer. My mom is the reason I made it to where I am today.

You are her everything. Chess competition? Sheíll drive. Wrestling match? Sheíll buy you dinner after. Swim meet? Sheíll make you pasta. Class field trip? Sheíll chaperone. Mom is your cheerleader. Seeing you succeed means the world to her, because you are her world. She is at every school play, competition, field day, and class room party that she can possibly attend because she loves the look on your face when youíve had a good day, won a match, got a good grade, or succeeded in any way. She would do anything to make sure you always have that look on your face.

Moms are always there for you. Granted, I wrote this based mostly on my mom, but I talked to other people too and they backed me up. Moms are the unsung heroes in all of our lives. We all have role models that we look up to and aspire to be like. Rarely, however, do we think that we want to be like our moms, but we should. They teach by example, showing us what it means to love unconditionally and wholeheartedly, give without reserve, and expect nothing in return. They give us everything that we need so that we in turn can give everything we have to the world, but some of us never do. We all must look inside of ourselves and remember what our moms taught us, and use that as our role model. Give selflessly. Encourage your loved ones. Remember the little things. Overall, love others more than yourself. Be the person that your mom raised you to be.

Read other articles by Katie Powell

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