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Executive Remarks, Student Body President Lamar Richards

Student Organizations Leadership Retreat (SOLR), The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

August 21, 2021


Good Morning Everyone!

I recognize that I am likely not the first voice many of you would like to hear on a Saturday morning, but hopefully my message will enlighten us all as we engage in a meaningful and impactful retreat for student leaders across our campus. When I spoke to incoming first-year students at New Student Convocation earlier this week, I said to them words that you will hear me say throughout the year. I said “get here, go anywhere; make it here, make it anywhere.” So, being the inquisitive leaders that I’m sure all of you are, you probably wonder what I mean when I say “get here, go anywhere. Make it here, make it anywhere?” It references the inherently complex and challenging nature of the roles we have and are about to step into, to charge this University with becoming and being better each and every day. It further means that as a student here at Carolina we each underwent the grilling admissions process to prove our academic aptitude and to demonstrate our ability to be critical thinkers and problem-solvers. Yet, this phrase also attests to the fact that while at Carolina we will encounter instances where we do not always have the ‘answer’ or the ‘solution.’ My first tidbit of advice this morning is to not characterize these moments as points of ‘failure’ but rather call them what they are – integral parts of your story, parts of who you are and who you aim to be. 

So, I encourage you to think: where is your anywhere? I know we’re often asked as college students “where do you see yourself in X amount of years” or “what’s your plans after graduation?” — but my question to you is different, today I’m asking you to explore your ‘anywhere’, to find the place where the bounds of creativity and service collides with your life-long experiences, the place you aspire for your leadership to take you. 

Now, think about how you can reach this destination and what pathways you might take? Is it a straight path? Curved? Finally, think about what roadblocks you might encounter on this path? What issues might arise? Maybe you don’t get a high enough score on the LSAT the first go-round, maybe you take an unexpected gap year? Who knows, maybe there will be a global pandemic in the middle of your college career? I ask you to think about these things today because more than likely many of your responses included someone along the way helping you, assisting you, mentoring you, or even just listening to you and your ideas. This is important because my next tidbit of advice is something that took me a while to learn (and Bobby, our advisor, would argue I am still learning) and that is: leadership is not about you, it is about the community. The communities we foster through our service, our academic scholarship, and our selflessness. So, I ask you again where is YOUR anywhere? The answer to this question is that your anywhere is everywhere and everywhere is your anywhere, because effective leadership opens doors that cannot otherwise be opened. So as leaders this year of various organizations across campus, I encourage you to ask your core teams, your members, and whoever else will listen: “where is your anywhere? And most importantly, how can I help you reach this place?”

Taking this into account, so far I have given you two pieces of advice:

  1. Points of failure are just as important to your story as those of success, they should be chronicled as such.
  2. Leadership is not about you, it is about community

These are important because one of the most common questions I get as student body president is: “how did you do it?” As if I woke up one morning and just became student body president. My journey, very similar to others before me, includes just as many failures as they do successes, just as many nights crying feeling alone as they do celebrations and galas. But some of my most embarrassing moments of leadership failure could have been avoided if someone would have said “Lamar, you can’t seek larger fish with the same size pan.” You’re probably asking yourself again, what does that mean? See, 

About some odd hundred years ago, an old fisherman was out at sea. He had been fishing for years and regularly went fishing to provide for his wife and children. That being said, this day was not unlike any other, except for one small exception: there was a child sitting on the docks watching the fisherman at work. 

The fisherman was good at fishing, he could catch as many fish as the sea could hold. But the young boy quickly realized something odd about the fisherman’s tactics: every time the fisherman would catch a larger fish, he would throw it back to sea and every time he would catch a smaller fish, he would throw it in his cooler. 

“What was it about the larger fish that makes this fisherman want to throw them back?” – the young boy wondered. Once the fisherman came back to the docks, the young boy politely approached him and asked, “excuse me, mister! Can I impose a question upon you? I sat for a while and watched you fish, what a fantastic fisherman you are! But, do you mind telling me what made you throw the bigger fish back to sea?” 

The old fisherman laughed and said, “Young man, I wish I could keep those big fish more than anything else in the world. They have more protein, feed more mouths, cook better, and last longer; but, I have only a small cooking pan at home that will only allow me to cook the smaller fish.” In awe, the young man nodded and headed off to think about what he had just heard…

I often think about this old adage that I heard as a child because it holds so much wisdom and it relates so much to the model of leadership that I aspire to keep close to my heart. There will be so many wonderful opportunities for you, your organizations, and your core teams as you continue to program, plan, and advocate. Some of these opportunities will come in the form of professional opportunities, grants and funding, or opening your organization to an even broader base — and this is all wonderful, trust me. But, in order to succeed at this you must have the tools or, in this case, you must have the right size pan. You have to be committed to being a life-long learner, finding the best ways to communicate with your organization, as each person on your team evolves into someone new, so will the need for your leadership approach. You must be willing to go to the drawing board, work out a plan, make over a dozen revisions to that plan, and then be willing to throw that whole plan out the window because things rarely ever go as planned. Your goal isn’t to search for bigger fish, its to always have a big enough pan for the fish that are sure to come. 

Life can be hard, and as I am sure many of you have already found out: college is no exception. Every day brings with it a new challenge to be addressed, without fail. And, as leaders, we must meet the challenge every single time. Not because it sounds good or looks good on your resume, even though it does, but because if not us, then who? There are hundreds of theories to what is required for effective leadership, by hundreds of different scholars and PhDs (some even right here at Carolina), but I have found that the most impressive research in this have all concluded one thing: leadership is a circle, not a pyramid, not a square or anything else. Its a circle, where everyone, from the person in charge down to the smallest titles, play an equitable role in decisions being made and every person’s thoughts and perspectives are included in the ongoing dialogue of the organization. Its hard to implement this and maintain it because its rarely ever done, but the first step you can take as a leader is listening to understand instead of listening to respond. Always be that open ear for anyone in your organization (or even external) to come to you and share their feelings.

As I leave you, I ask you the very question that I started with: where is your anywhere? How will this dynamic community, of over 800 organizations, 30,000 students, and billion-dollar-enterprise, factor into your leadership? Go forward, today and everyday, and be bold. Be courageous. Be you. Nothing or no one can hinder who you are or who you aspire to be as a leader. And when times get rough or you’re burning the midnight oil, remember you made it here. And, you make it here, you make it anywhere. 

Thank you!

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