If you had asked me five years ago, who a leader was, I would have give you examples like Gandhi, Jack Layton, Mother Theresa and other countless famous names. If at the same time, you would have told me that five years later I would be brushing shoulders with some of Canada’s best and strongest leaders, I would have chuckled and tried to think of what kind of a contest I had entered to get me to the All Stars game, a political conference, or a Nobel Peace Prize ceremony.
Looking back on this weekend, I truly believe that I was in the presence of some of the strongest, passionate and motivating student leaders in the country. The Residence Life Conference 2012 at Trent University was one of the best experiences of my academic career. The conference was attended by post-secondary schools across the country including the University of British Columbia, University of Manitoba, Bishops and of course, Ryerson University. All the delegates were in one way or another involved in Student Housing Services including Student Affair professionals. As a third year residence advisor, I was overwhelmed with the opportunity to learn, grow and educate other student leaders. What was really unique about this group of student leaders was how mature and enthusiastic about their work they really are. A friend of mine once said, “When you do what you love, you will never work a day in your life,” and I feel like this quote embodies each of these student leaders. On top of school, they balance their social lives and this job and guide these undergraduates through some of the most life changing and memorable moments of their lives.
Back in November, another residence advisor and I had submitted a proposal for the conference on how to market the skills we learn from this job and how you can use social media to enhance and separate yourself from the other candidates. Along with another proposal from two residence life staff, both our proposals were accepted. My supervisor put together a delegation of 6 student leaders and we were off!
When we arrived in Peteborough, we settled into our accommodations and went straight to the university campus to register and meet the other delegates. When we arrived at the headquarters for the weekend-long conference we spent the evening introducing ourselves and explaining/promoting our presentation to other student leaders. The energy in the hall was constantly pumped and 5 minutes wouldn’t go by without a school cheering off against another school or “winding each other’s toys” (a Guelph tradition). The beauty with working in residence life is that leaders are fearless, easily approachable and always willing to lend an ear to listen. By the end of the night, I was so overwhelmed by all the people I had met in such a short amount of time. These individuals were so strong and I began to get a bit nervous about my presentation for the following day. What if we didn’t keep their attention? What if they already knew all this information? What if they didn’t want to participate in our activities? All these questions going through my head were immediately dismissed when I realized who we would be presenting to…
The following morning we were up at 6 am to get ready and organize all our equipment for the presentation. After a short drive, we got to the conference and before we even had a chance to open the doors, the Trent team had the doors wide open and were cheering for us and welcoming us back. Not within 100 meters, the Guelph delegates were cheering for our arrival, spirit fingers and all. The rest of the day was filled with five student run seminars- including the two Ryerson teams. The Ryerson team split up so we could experience a diversity of seminars.
When our time finally came to present, I was overwhelmed with the lack of empty chairs. The entire presentation went fantastic and the leaders were engaged, asking questions, and just overall really interested with our presentation. After we finished, half a dozen delegates came up to my partner and I asking for copies of our presentation to bring back to their team and even present us with gifts on behalf of their delegations thanking us for our contribution that weekend. Just like our presentation, the other Ryerson presentation also went flawless. The focus of their presentation was on the importance of being a follower. The leaders loved the presentation and I was so proud that I had an opportunity to work with them on a regular basis. Pride was coming out of every pore in my body. The rest of the evening was filled with other amazing presentations and personal experiences from their jobs as staff at other universities. Conferences like these are ideal because you learn how each system is different and how lucky we are that we have such a tight community and team at Ryerson. The evening closed with a dinner banquet and dance.
On the last day, we had a final opportunity to network and meet other professionals in housing across the country and listen to opportunities available for post-graduate or entry level positions. I met some of the strongest professionals who have been involved with student affairs in one way or another for years. I would never be able to experience a chance like this if it weren’t for this conference and especially for Ryerson Student Housing Services for sending me.
One thing I took away from this conference was how my idea of leaders had changed over the weekend. A leader isn’t someone who get awards or is known worldwide. Leaders are present in our everyday lives and Residence Life Staff are some of the strongest leaders I know. I can’t think of any other students who are better multi-tasker’s, balancers, counselors’, students, problem solvers, programmers, marketing promoter, safety enforcers and friends. We go above and beyond what is asked of us and the reason behind it is simple- the students. This conference couldn’t do a better job of illustrating just that. All these things reinforce my mantra:
“When you love what you do, you will never work a day in your life.”