August 15, 2011- Address to Students of Ira H Hayes High School
I was meeting with a colleague of mine a short time ago when we talked about a young man who had recently graduated from high school. He described the graduate who wore clean but loose fitting trousers, a T-shirt with the name of a rock band across the front, a University of Arizona baseball cap, and a thin mustache that had a lot of filling in to do. He had heard good things about the young man, but he did not make a good impression when they met. He had the opportunity to speak with the teenager for about 15 minutes, but then he had walked away nodding. From those few minutes of conversation my friend had realized that the young man was smart, had a level of common sense he seldom sees in many adults, and had sound and attainable goals for the next few years. He saw that the young man really respected his single mother and grandparents who were consistent in what they asked of him – and that made his teenage life less hectic!
This happened down at Tohono O’odham, but it could just as well have happened here in the Gila River Indian Community. It made me think about our young people – many of those just now graduating from high school will be our next generation of Community leaders. Some of the older folks in the Community look at our young people, and from their first impression, wonder where our new leaders will come from – well, you’re looking at them! They might not appear to be smooth and polished, and they certainly have much to learn about our Community and the people. However, they will slowly and eventually become knowledgeable and confident.
There are differing schools of thought about how a sense of leadership should be instilled into young people. Some think we should groom our young people for leadership, almost taking by hand those who we think have good qualities of leadership. Yes, we probably can do that, but I place much of the responsibility for preparing to be a leader on the young people themselves. I believe that those who want to be leaders already have that desire and determination imprinted in their minds. They will find ways to learn the lessons that will help them to be good leaders. They will show the initiative to find ways to associate with people from whom they can learn about leadership and commitment.
An O’odham educator who teaches business to college students wrote a piece about the importance of experience and education in the learning process. She wrote: “Many successful business people lack formal college education, and many highly-educated people lack important business experience. Success seems to come more from personal drive and ambition than anything else.”
That premise can also be applied to leadership. Those young people who have personal drive and ambition will find ways to reach positions of responsible leadership. When I talk about positions of leadership, you should understand that our Community needs leaders at many levels. Yes, we need tribal government and Community Council leaders. We also need strong leaders, with clear vision for a brighter future for our people, to head effectively our government programs and projects. We need leaders to administer our business enterprises in a profitable manner. We also need leaders in our districts and in the communities that make up those districts. Not every young person may want to be a leader, but for those in their late teens and early twenties who have drive and ambition, you should know that your leadership in the future is not only needed, it is welcomed by your Community.
I encourage our young people to demonstrate the initiative to ask questions, to take on tasks that might seem difficult, to propose answers that you think might not be accepted, and to learn as much about your Community as you can. Even if you don’t aspire for leadership, what you learn today will help you to become a good citizen tomorrow. Above all, don’t be deterred by unanswered questions, or by those who ignore your ideas and point of views.
And I urge those of us who are now in leadership positions throughout our Community, don’t turn away from our young people when they stand up to speak, when they seek answers, and when they voice their opinions. Though we like to think that we will be here and will be able to lead for many, many more years, we will not! We should listen to our youth, try to understand what they have to say, and help them develop into the leaders that our Community need in the years to come. We all must do our part to make this a reality for the good of the Gila River Indian Community as a whole.