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LEADS FORUM: Lead, follow ... or walk side-by-side

Commentary • Apr 22, 2010 at 12:31 AM


Castalia resident; Co-director, Leadership Erie County

Member, LEC class of 2007

Almost 20 years ago, I stood in my high school gymnasium and gave a very short presentation citing the Alfred Camus quote, "Do not walk behind me, I may not lead. Do not walk in front of me, I may not follow. Just walk beside me and be my friend."

Those were the words I spoke not only to my fellow classmates, but to the parents of a classmate who had unexpectedly passed away between our freshman and sophomore years. As I presented the weeping parents with their son's senior class gift, a mug engraved with his name, I remember thinking how emotionally horrible this had to be for them.

As a cruel and ironic twist of fate, I am now preparing for an emotionally horrible day, when the Margaretta Class of 2010 graduates without my son, who unexpectedly passed away between his sophomore and junior years. When I reflect on the range of emotions that have encapsulated my family from the day Brad passed away, I am pleasantly surprised I also have wonderful experiences to think about -- experiences that I never could have predicted that are both overwhelming and enjoyable to relive over and over again in my mind.

This Margaretta Class of 2010, along with the faculty and administration, has not walked in front of my family, nor have they walked behind. From the day we said good-bye to Brad, they have walked beside us and been our friends. Their actions and plans have been thoughtful and meaningful. Sometimes small -- just a card in the mail signed by a few classmates and teachers. And sometimes massive -- a basketball fundraiser, planned by students, faculty and administration together, that exceeds everyone's expectations in many ways.

How is that? Why is that? How is it that a small, rural school district wraps their arms around one of their own and does not forget? Why is it that this same small, rural school district cannot wrap their arms around each other and support those who are still here?

We are never always happy with each other. Do you honestly find yourself in total agreement with your president? With your boss? Are you always happy with your neighbors? Do you ever tell your children that you are unhappy with them for something they have done? Of course you do, but even as we are mad or upset with our children, don't we always forgive them providing them the unconditional support and love they need and deserve?

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton reminded us of the African proverb, "it takes a village to raise a child." While you may side with the critic who cites that an African village is very different from our American communities and the proverb is not applicable to how our children are raised and educated, I'd ask you to consider a little more.

What if the proverb is saying we, as a community, have a responsibility to form a strong and stable system of support for our next generation? And with that consideration, is it fair to attach provisos and quid pro quos to that support system? Is it fair to those children whom we all share the responsibility to raise to say, yes, we'll support you but only when we agree with everything our elected and appointed leaders do?

If that is the case, then we are letting our children learn to let someone else walk in front of them, thus providing us an easy escape. If we let someone else walk in front of us then we don't have to follow when we don't like the consequences of our own negativity and our own inaction. It is much easier to point and criticize from behind.

A community of support, to which we can all participate, teaches our children how to walk beside each other, through good times and bad, in order to grow forward, heal painful experiences, and build a strong future. I am humbled to have the Margaretta community walk beside my family and proud to stand beside them with full, unconditional support.

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