“Already recognized for their compassion, integrity, courage, respect and leadership potential, each student speaking today has the opportunity to encourage you to envision and understand how he could serve as the next school leader of Cardigan Mountain School,” began Dean of Students Danielle Fedele during this year’s leadership chapel. It’s an opportunity for students to stand up in front of their peers and boldly declare what makes a good leader and what role they feel they can play in the School’s governance. This year’s candidates were Keonha “Sam” Bae, Jackson Davies, Estyn Elkouh, Mateo Escalante, Sechang Mah, Preston Merrick, Liam Murphy, Ethan Roy, and Gustavo Struck.
As each student took his turn at the podium, their answers were articulate and thoughtful. If their speeches are any indication of their leadership abilities, the 2021-22 school year will be a good one.
One thing was clear as the students gave their speeches: they know what leadership looks like; their older Cardigan brothers have been exceptional role models and mentors and have shown them the hard work that is required of a student leader. “Leadership is sacrificing yourself and exemplifying what is right to benefit others,” reflected Keonha “Sam” Bae ’22, who recalled his experience during COVID quarantine when the leaders in his dorm focused on the positive rather than lamenting the time they were missing with their friends. “Everyone in Hayward 2 was able to rely on our dorm leaders and we were able to thrive as Cardigan students, even when we were in quarantine.”
“As returning students next year, it is our responsibility to welcome the new students with open arms and make those first weeks a little easier.”Jackson Davies ’22
Jackson Davies ’22 also recalled the leaders who impacted his Cardigan experience: “I can’t begin to imagine coming across oceans and states to your first boarding school alone. We all know the feeling of homesickness and the struggles of navigating life at Cardigan. As returning students next year, it is our responsibility to welcome the new students with open arms and make those first weeks a little easier.” He remembers ninth-grade students doing the same for him and says, “Their act of kindness and acceptance made me feel like I belonged. It’s the environment I will continue to foster.”
“Cardigan has afforded me the ability to have choices…Cardigan means that my future dreams, such as playing professional basketball, can be a reality.”Preston Merrick ’22
It was also clear how much these potential leaders love Cardigan. Preston Merrick ’22 went so far as to call Cardigan his lifesaver and his Kevlar vest: “Cardigan has afforded me the ability to have choices…Cardigan means that my future dreams, such as playing professional basketball, can be a reality.” Estyn Elkouh ’22 also formed a special bond with Cardigan as he watched his three older brothers attend Cardigan and often visited campus with them: “Every single time I arrived on campus, I felt welcomed and included. There was always someone with a friendly greeting or gesture. Students included me in Spikeball or a pick-up basketball game, quickly becoming my role models because of the kindness and inclusion they showed to me.”
Mateo Escalante ’22 also spent his elementary school years anticipating the time when he too could become a student at Cardigan: “What does it mean to be a Cardigan Cougar?...Above all else they choose kindness first and always. I would not be who I am today if it weren’t for Cardigan. Since I have lived on campus for seven years, I have had the privilege of learning and growing under the guidance of past and present students.” He, in fact, shared in his speech that he has done Polar Bear for six years, showing his commitment to whatever he starts: “Likewise I’m committed to Cardigan and ready to work hard as a leader.”
“What does it mean to be a Cardigan Cougar?...Above all else they choose kindness first and always. I would not be who I am today if it weren’t for Cardigan.”Mateo Escalante ’22
No matter who becomes the school’s student leader next year, they all recognize the importance of establishing unity. As Liam Murphy ’22 explained, it’s important to create an inclusive environment where everyone can be themselves: “I’ll remember that everyone of us is just trying to figure out who we are, and I will try to help you, my fellow Cardigan brother, to feel supported…I value a positive healthy community above all else.” And Sechang Mah ’22 offered this: “I have a goal: to become a leader and to help others in the same way that the Cardigan community has helped me, demonstrating the Core Values and always asking for help without fear, but being ready to offer it even faster.”
“Leadership is sacrificing yourself and exemplifying what is right to benefit others.” Keonha “Sam” Bae ’22
Perhaps even more important than the words that they spoke were the high fives and handshakes the boys gave each other as each student finished his speech and sat down. These boys, even as they competed for the same position, were there for each other, encouraging each other and bonding over an experience that can be contentious and complex. It’s Cardigan leadership at its best.