Life is a cumulation of the moments we’ve had, with some moments more significant than others. As we accumulate experiences, our lives can transform from just one moment. My life-changing experience involves 500+ student leaders from 50+ states and U.S. territories, all in the heart of Washington, D.C. NASSP’s LEAD Conference held earlier this month allowed me to strengthen my skills, alter my perspective, and dream bigger, shaping my leadership experience forever. 

Alina Chen, a senior at East Brunswick High School, presented at LEAD.

Perspective is a vital trait for student leaders; it is the ability to consider different viewpoints and foresee the impact of our actions on the community. For instance, how will the community perceive a decision? What are the possible approaches we could take to solve an issue? As students, our perspective is often constrained within our schools or local communities. At conferences like LEAD, we encounter endless opportunities to widen our perspectives and explore new ideas.  

On my first day of the conference, I found myself in an open discussion with leaders from California, West Virginia, and the Dominican Republic about issues our councils were facing. I was exposed to many situations I had never encountered. However, I also came to an important realization—because of our differing backgrounds, we were pushed to consider unique solutions and deviate from our individual ways of thinking. For instance, my group discussed methods to increase student and faculty collaboration. One individual explained how her education board held district meetings open to all students, while I explained how my school had monthly meetings between our administration and student representatives. In addition to valuable peer discussions, I gained insight from speaker Olympian Sarah Wells, who shared her journey as an athlete. From her keynote, I learned that our losses are just as significant as our wins because they are what lead to our eventual victories.  

On the second day, I was given the opportunity to manage the @natstuco and @nationalhonorsociety Instagram, where I documented my LEAD experience. I began with speaker Tony Weaver Jr. sharing his journey as a storyteller alongside his struggles with education and mental health. After entering successive deep dive sessions where I discussed how to deal with curveballs in planning and mental health advocacy in schools, I had the privilege of presenting my own workshop about leadership styles and fostering group cohesion. It was rewarding to watch my fellow student leaders implement the skills they learned in real time to collaborate with people they had never met. I ended the day exploring Washington, D.C., with the other National Student Council ambassadors, feeling inspired by sights such as the Lincoln Memorial and Washington Monument that showcased the visionary leaders of our country’s past.  

Before I knew it, I had arrived at my final day of LEAD. Our speaker that day, Timothy Alexander, shared the power of resilience, where I learned that anyone can defy the odds with the right mindset. Afterward, I said goodbye to the student leaders I had grown incredibly close to in just 36 hours and left LEAD with endless inspiration and invigorated passion. 

While LEAD may have only lasted three days, the connections I fostered, and my overall experience, will continue to impact the person I am in my community. From working with my fellow National Student Council ambassadors to hearing the inspiring stories of our speakers to presenting my own keynote on leadership styles, NASSP has given me remarkable opportunities. As Timothy Alexander says, our potential is not in what we’ve done but what we have yet to do. I can’t wait to see how we will use our experiences to truly lead in our everyday lives, and I hope to find all of you undergoing a transformative experience at our next LEAD conference.