Balloon Structures to Save the World
It was a beautiful 70-degree Maine evening, and I was sitting on a veranda at Point Lookout Conference Center, an hour’s drive southeast of Colby. I had spent countless hours here over the past week with my “family cluster,” a small group of students led by a Colby professor, but it was this moment that was particularly important. This was when I realized that the Megan MacKenzie sitting there was an entirely different person than the one who sat in the same place at the beginning of the week.
I had become a leader.
Spring break marked the inauguration of the Leadershape Institute at Colby. The conference is held for groups of college students all over the country, with the goal of helping create “a just, caring, and thriving world.”
Ours was led by Leadershape staff instructors and Colby staff facilitators. Over six days, 46 Colby students took part in community-building activities, explored their personal core ethical values, and developed the qualities and skills necessary to be effective leaders.
We watched videos on Jane Elliot’s famous “brown-eyed/blue-eyed” exercise and Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech, and we listened to Leadershape staff members tell us about some of their own most meaningful experiences and struggles as leaders. We competed to construct the tallest freestanding structure made of just balloons and tape, and we played games in which we imagined we were code breakers hacking into an ancient treasure.
The central focus of the week was for each individual to develop a personal vision that outlined a bold change in the world. Some students dreamed of providing education for children all over the world; others focused on free health care. I’m a firm believer in the importance of local, sustainable agriculture, so the vision I created was, “a world in which local, sustainable foods are available for everyone, and in which farmers consider being ethical, honest, and environmentally friendly before simply making profit.” In our clusters we read our vision statements to one another and helped each other develop them, finding ways to take action in both the short term and years down the road.
Though much growth occurred during the week’s formal program, a significant amount of learning happened during casual conversation, most notably at mealtimes. We discussed pressing current issues at Colby, such as the “hook-up culture,” integration of international students, and going beyond the standard, “‘Hey, how are you?’ ‘Good, how are you?’ ‘Good.’ End of story” conversations heard throughout campus.
We also opened up to each other about personal struggles and dreams for the future. When I arrived at Leadershape, I did not know a single other participant, but because of the openness with which we interacted, I finished the week as a friend of every person there.
Leadershape taught me not only how to be a strong leader, but also how to communicate better with others and to build more meaningful relationships.
Every moment at the Leadershape Institute was an opportunity to learn. Each session with the larger group inspired us to be ourselves, dig deeply into self-discovery, open up to the ideas of others, and grow as individuals and as a community. Then, in our clusters and at dinner conversations, we put these lessons into practice. But once spring break ended and we returned to campus, the true challenge arrived: holding onto this personal growth and extending it to the greater Colby community.
Every day I find opportunities to practice what Leadershape taught me. During conversations in the dining halls, during class discussions, in my extracurricular activities, and everywhere in between, I try to act with integrity and to do my personal best to promote “a just, caring, and thriving world.”