Take One: South Medford High School Drama Club
Senior year, I was elected as Thespian Vice President, and I tanked. At first, I was very excited about this new leadership position, but after some time, the excitement dulled and I took my title less seriously. I understood the role of Vice President to mean stepping up in the absence of the president, and because our president had an immaculate attendance record, I began to feel like my opportunity to step up would never come. My primary role during officer meetings became comic relief. During our final meeting at the end of the year, I made the offhanded comment to our president, “Sorry I wasn’t much help with anything.” I meant it as a joke, but she laughed awkwardly and said, “Yeah…”
Take Two: Year two of AmeriCorps with Future Connect at Portland Community College
I had graduated from high school and college at this point, going on to serve two years with national volunteer and community service program, AmeriCorps. My VISTA assignment was to expand the existing mentoring program by building community partnerships and creating work-study mentoring positions for our students. I had a pretty successful year, but during my end-of-service evaluation, my supervisor and I had an exchange that will always stick with me.
He said, “There have been times during our one-on-ones when I suggest that you should do something and you scribble it down, and you proceed to do it, but I always wonder, ‘Tara is smart as heck, why didn’t she think to do it herself?’”
And I said to him, “Well, in my work history, I’ve always been given a set of tasks to accomplish, and then left to accomplish them. There’s never really been much room for doing things on my own.”
And that led to a conversation about confidence and having faith in my own abilities to get thing done.
Take Three: Campus Compact of Oregon (ORCC)
I LEARNED SO MUCH FROM MY AMERICORPS COHORTS, BUT THE MOST VALUABLE LESSON I LEARNED WAS THAT I WAS ABLE TO BRING PEOPLE TOGETHER MERELY BY BEING MY UNADULTERATED SELF. AND FURTHERMORE, I INSPIRED PEOPLE BY DOING SO.
Both of my AmeriCorps service years were through the intermediary organization ORCC, and both years, the feedback I received from my respective cohorts was virtually identical.
“You’re the glue that holds us together.”
“You’re a leader in our group, and with that comes great responsibility.”
“It’s refreshing the way you speak your mind.” “Your confidence is inspiring.”
Combined, the lessons I learned from these three different leadership opportunities have come to shape who I am as a leader today, and have laid the foundation for where I hope to continue in my leadership journey.
I must remind myself along the way that:
If I want to pursue my dream of doing educational equity work, I can’t wait around for someone to tell me what to do. If I don’t know what to do, get creative. Take what I have, and do something with it.
I’ve never been taught what leadership explicitly means, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t be a leader. I may have limited leadership experience in professional settings, but this is only the beginning. I am capable; I am competent.
I need to play to my strengths. I know how to inspire and how to bring people together - and now I am learning how to translate that skill to my work.
Meaningful and lasting change happens with inspiration, vision, confidence, and initiative. I will bring all of that and then some to this fellowship and my work beyond.