Writing in Mrs. M. on the ballot
During my time at the College of Wooster, I was selected for a special course in leadership. My first day, I looked around the table at the fine young men and women who, quite frankly, were smarter than I, and instantly panicked. As a geology major, I was up to my ears in my senior thesis which involved collapsing roofs in coal mines and while the rest of the students in class were studying the classics and great leaders throughout history, I could easily tell the stories of the deposition of our eastern Ohio stratigraphy.
This didn’t help much when it came to the course on leadership.
On the first day of class we each went around the room and named someone whom we each thought was a great leader. The historians in the crowd named kings and authors. The political science majors named politicians. Knowing that I would inevitably embarrass myself, I named a person who served as a personal leader, someone who while may have not changed the course of history, changed my life. I named Mrs. M., the Girl Scout leader of my youth.
You know those humiliating moments that stick with you? For me, this was one of them. At the time I felt like my brain was shriveling up and someone put a “DUH” sticker on my forehead. The blank looks I received spoke their disbelief, but even to this day, I stand by my answer.
Nowadays, when our lives are inundated with the upcoming presidential election, I can’t help but think back to the things Mrs. M. did to define what leadership means to me.
Mrs. M. taught us responsibility. Every girl has a job, and every girl will do her job because it is her responsibility to act as a part of the whole. If you are supposed to do it, you do it. Or else you pay for it. There was minimal hand holding, a general intolerance for whining, and through it all a gentle reminder that we young girls were quite capable of taking care of ourselves. We had to unload the gear, plan and cook our own meals, clean our own bunks, and if we didn’t, we were held accountable. If you burnt the scrambled eggs, we all knew it.
Mrs. M. taught us fairness, that in reality we get what we deserve, which can be great things if we put forth a respectable amount of effort. Girls were all treated the same, given the same opportunities, and it was our duty to treat each other with kindness and equality. Above everything else, we were all scouts working together, no matter our differences.
She taught us that if we worked hard, we would play hard. The reward system is nothing new, but for everything I have done in my life, I still remember the sweet feeling of passing tent inspection after sweeping and cleaning half of the campground and being allowed to run wild and get out of dish duty.
Mrs. M. taught us to do it ourselves. If you were faced with a challenge, whether it was knot-tying, fire-building, puffy-paint on a t-shirt, or trying not to burn the eggs, she made sure you were given the tools to succeed and then were set free with the knowledge. And if we complained about how hard it was, we’d hear her voice saying something like, “tough noogies, you can do it.” (Although she didn’t say “noogies.” She was a pretty honest gal.)
And finally, she taught me to dance in your underwear. At the end of the day, when camp is clean, the girls are fed and in bed, don’t forget to celebrate all you have accomplished by guiding those you care about. It just so happens that, on a day when a craft includes tie-dying underwear, putting them on and boogying through the wilderness is simply what makes a great leader absolutely human.
I just wish she were running for president.