Seek early involvement in college

Daniel Gordon and Daniel Gordon

I have a wish for the Class of 2019: that each of you recognizes and embraces your leadership potential and finds a way to be part of something larger than yourself. As your elected representative on Bowling Green City Council since 2012, I know firsthand the difference it makes when young people step up to lead.

Even if our efforts are on a small scale, they matter. If you run a student organization, raise money for charity or serve in government, you have the power to change our little corner of the world for the better. Yet, too often we withdraw from such pursuits – we may be apathetic or cynical about our ability to make progress. This is partially because (at least regarding the political process) we often have such poor role models, but that winds up being part of the reason we stop engaging in the world so soon after starting. We need to stop looking for someone else to swoop in and fix the problems we gripe about, and start looking within ourselves.

I was able to practice this in July, when I attended the 10th annual convening of the Young Elected Officials Network, a national organization – the first of its kind – built to support elected officials who are between the ages of 18 and 35. At the conference were young elected officials from all 50 states – mayors; members of city councils, school boards, and county commissions; state representatives and senators; and even members of Congress (I was the only YEO from Ohio in attendance.) I learned about people our age from California to Connecticut who are working to eradicate poverty and homelessness, support #BlackLivesMatter and social justice initiatives, push for more humane education and immigration policies and create living-wage jobs. Many of these extraordinary people are still in college. Like our student leaders here in Bowling Green, they are passionate, tireless and committed. I felt right at home.

My experience at the Convening was life-changing. I could write several pages on my reflections. In the meantime, fellow Falcons, learn from them – all those people our age who are doing courageous and good things. Take heart that we too can make a difference, and set an example for our peers. Get more involved in our community, since it will be only as good as we make it. I know too many students who never branched out their first year. Serve in Undergraduate Student Government or at least attend their meetings. Help Dance Marathon raise money for child cancer patients. Work with me and other city officials on projects. Bowling Green is your home for most, if not all, of the year; let us work to make sure it is in the best shape possible. Support our friends and peers who are leading for change. Their jobs – whether they serve in government, run a campus organization or engage in activism – are demanding and often thankless. So thank them, and ask how you can help.

Falcons, I know that if I could just bottle the feeling I had seeing all these leaders and coming to know what they persevered through and overcame, and send that bottle to every young person in our country, I know we would be in such good hands. That spirit we need – let us adopt it here in Bowling Green.