During the OK White Leadership Conference, students accentuated the power and importance behind what it truly means to be a leader


Whether it be during the swim, wrestling, or crew season, senior Jayla Williams finds herself retaining a placid status and laying low at times. However, when the time comes, and she catches a glimpse of an opportunity to motivate others, Jayla is quick to drop the previous low status as she prepares to stand up as a leader—a leader who resides in between encouragement and responsibility.

“I like to motivate people and push them [to try] their hardest,” Jayla said. “Being a leader means making the people around you push hard but also having fun while doing that. It means caring for everyone at any time of day and [being] willing to help out anyone who needs it.”

No matter what sport it’s occurring in, Jayla finds moments of instinctual leadership imperative when considering the well-being of her team. It’s almost a driving factor in some instances.

“If no one is there to tell you how hard to go and what to do, then people won’t do it,” Jayla said. “You need someone to push you to become the best competitor you can be.”

Students who stand up in times of need, like Jayla, were the students that Student Council Advisor and teacher Laura Stiles and Athletic Director Clark Udell sought out for when considering who should represent FHC at the OK White Student Leadership Conference on Dec 7. Together, along with Student Council Advisor and teacher Stacy Steensma, they hosted the conference in the cafeteria, where students from seven different schools in the West Michigan area came together simply to discuss, learn, and listen.

“The idea behind [the conference] was to challenge a small group from each school to develop their leadership,” Udell said, “and challenge them to be good leaders in their school, both on the field and off the field in a number of different ways.”

While Stiles and Steensma chose ten promising students who express leadership qualities frequently, many of which are on student council, Udell had the responsibility to choose ten students who illustrate leadership in various sports throughout the year. From Udell’s perspective, the challenge these 20 students face is merely an ongoing process with an often ambiguous result.

“The challenge is really just trying to create a culture where we raise the bar on the expectations,” Udell said, “and the challenge is to meet those expectations. [The result] is something that I don’t think is going to be ‘Oh bing, it happened.’ I think it’s kind of cultural, so it’s not really easy to, so to speak, collect data on. They’ll probably be examples, but at the same point, it’s just gonna be, are we moving forward as a building? Are we noticing some things? But really, it’s hard to define because it’s just developing and evolving over time.”

One main aspect of the conference consisted of challenging prospective student leaders; however, this idea of a challenge is a broad concept that consists of an umbrella of ideas— ideas that bear many purposes depending on the perspective it’s viewed from.

This year, Stiles and Steensma had the opportunity to lead a discussion during the conference in an effort to simply start up a conversation among students. The students from seven different schools were broken up into groups with no more than one person from each school at a table, and the questions asked varied, ranging from trivial matters to deeper questions.

The purpose behind it was to challenge students to think of ideas for their respective schools and how to make it a better environment for everyone around them.

“We had kids talk about what they could do to inspire others students, whether it’s something simple like smiling a little bit more or being more inclusive,” Stiles said. “I don’t think we had as much time as maybe we would’ve wanted to more deeply discuss a few things, but I think kids got a chance to share. I think kids got a chance to see that kids are kids, whether you go to this school or a school down the road.”

To move forward as a school, whether it be by meeting high expectations or introducing new ideas for improvement, both Stiles and Udell believe that it is important to have leaders guiding people along the way. However, the most effective leaders, in their opinion, are people that guide others through their actions rather than through their words.

This idea that a great leader is one who is a role model and demonstrates leadership through their actions was a concept talked about during the conference by a guest speaker, Jeff Jacobs. From the perspective of senior and class president Sutton Steensma, she agrees with Jacobs.

“I thought [what the guest speaker talked about] was a really cool way to show that really is what leadership is. It’s not just a title, or anything like that,” Sutton said. “Anybody can have any title, whether you’re on Winterfest court or you are the quarterback of the football team. But what really makes you own that title is the way you show people how it should be demonstrated. When you show them you’re not just class president or you’re not just Homecoming Queen, you’re [showing that] you’re so much more than that because of the content of your character.”

Stiles hopes to bring together these students– ones who demonstrate a positive representation of leadership– to help the school in some way.

“I think [there is] some potential to do some great things as more kids are involved and come up with ideas,” Stiles said. “I don’t know what that thing is yet. It might take us a while to come up with something because great ideas kind of evolve, and they take time to come up with.”

Despite her not knowing now, Stiles anticipates a fundraiser in the future or even something that is related to targeting students’ mental health. She wants it to revolve around the students and be led by the student leaders of the school. Together, with the effort of the student council and the sports leaders, Stiles hopes some sort of positive change could result.

As one of these leaders, Sutton says she wants to set a good example and create a positive environment in the school, no matter what the big goal is. Despite the numerous explanations on what being a leader means, at the end of the day, Sutton looks past the title and simply turns towards kindness.

“It’s just the way that you treat people [that’s important],” Sutton said. “[People] are more than just someone that you’re competing against. They’re someone who is going through the exact same thing that you are— the limbo of high school, the pressure of being in high school, being on a sports team, being that star player. They’re so much more than that number on the field. They are a person. They have passion just like you, and they have the same motives to make their community a better place for everybody.”