September 23, 2020

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BY JOSH BURY

The second annual Student Leadership Conference, aimed at developing student leaders at Conestoga College, was warmly received by the students.
The conference, which took place at Bingemans on the weekend of Nov. 17, was organized by Conestoga Students Inc., who started the program last year. Two hundred and forty tickets were available, and nearly sold out.
CSI’s leadership program also includes funding for clubs, a community leadership ambassador program and a global service leadership trip to a less-fortunate part of the world.
Budgeted funding for the program is $160,000, with the leadership conference taking “50 to 60 per cent” of that budgeted amount, according to CSI president Jason Wright.
Keynote speaker and best-selling author Delatorro McNeal was one of the guest speakers, and presented three sessions during the two-day conference. One of his sessions, entitled “We are one team,” featured several experiential activities.
“We start out with the relationship building stuff … and then we graduate into the team building things,” he said of the session’s flow.
One activity saw teams of students trying to build the tallest free standing balloon structure in under five minutes while using all available materials. Teams of newly-acquainted students scrambled to inflate the balloons, design the structure and put it together.
Another activity later in the session, called “Inner circle,” encouraged students to demonstrate courage by stepping into the middle of a larger circle when a question was asked that applied to them. The questions became increasingly personal, but students remained engaged, with some visibly moved by the experience.
“We take it to an emotional place where we talk about how, as a leader, you’re not only going to be called on to lead when everything is fine and groovy and perfect,” McNeal said. “A lot of the time, what makes the best leaders amazing is that they can lead through adversity.”
McNeal, who was a returning speaker from last year, said that the authentic emotion displayed by students during this activity isn’t something he ever gets used to.
“People ask me all the time … you never do. Every audience is different. These are people’s lives, and I take it seriously.”
“I try to be a sledgehammer of positivity,” he said.
McNeal’s sessions were just part of the event, which was well received by students. Some said the event managed to improve substantially over last year.
“I think it’s better than last year’s (conference). I think everyone’s more involved, and there wasn’t as much ice to break this year,” said Mike Boraski, a second-year business administration –accounting student.
Kierstian MacLeod is a first-year business administration – management student who also attended last year, when she wasn’t a student at the college, out of interest.
“You need to be here … I may not even have chosen this school if it wasn’t for the fact that I attended this conference,” she said.
Hayley Press, the vice-chair of the CSI board of directors and a second-year public relations student, said last year’s conference was transformative, and that this year’s event is helping her to build on that success.
“I wouldn’t be where I am if it wasn’t for this conference last year … and two weeks from now I’ll tell you the exact same thing. It changes you, but it’ll only change you if you let it.”