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What Makes a Leader ?

Written by: Tianna Borda, Red & Black Contributor
SGA President and campus leader Neil Pandit'23 introduces Rep. Adam Kinzinger at the 2023 Symposium on Democracy (Courtesy: Regan Carlson)
MAR. 10 – Do you feel that being a leader is not achievable? That the role of “leader” is for someone who stands out as a powerful and well-respected person? While you may feel this way, Paul Loeb, an American social and political activist, believes that anyone can become a leader if they apply their strengths to their cause.  

Loeb was the opening keynote speaker for Washington & Jefferson College’s (W&J) sixth annual Symposium on Democracy on Feb. 23, 2023. 

Through his keynote speech, “Soul of a Citizen,” Loeb expressed the leadership experiences of Mahatma Gandhi, Rosa Parks, and Martin Luther King Jr. 

He said Gandhi was shy and tongue-tied in his field of law but became a revolutionary leader in South Africa and India. 

Loeb continued his speech with Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. and emphasized how they were actively a part of groups central to the civil rights movement. Their actions weren’t spontaneous, but rather planned and thought-out well before they were performed, Loeb said.  

The audience was silent. Only Loeb’s voice and the humming heater in the back of Olin’s Theater could be heard. Attendees looked interested in what he was saying, some even scribbling notes.  
Dr. James March, an associate professor of biology at W&J, felt that the speech gave great examples of perseverance and found commonalities that the audience shares with the leaders mentioned.  

“To me, [the speech] not only summarizes our school motto but summarizes the day of what democracy is, how we all have things in common,” Dr. March said. “If we can emphasize those more than our differences, we are probably better off.” 

“To me, [the speech] not only summarizes our school motto but summarizes the day of what democracy is, how we all have things in common,” Dr. March said. “If we can emphasize those more than our differences, we are probably better off.” 

Loeb furthered his discussion with his experience in politics and gave the audience a story of how he canvassed neighborhoods, reminding people to vote.  

The story Loeb shared was about when he gave power to a citizen who had not known he had that power. Loeb expressed the importance of democratic action to a person who was previously incarcerated.

This person, while stating that he wanted to vote, though he could not by law. Loeb told the person his rights which brought him to go out and vote like he already wanted to.  

Michelle Sprowls, an assistant director of conferences and events of W&J, enjoyed Loeb’s discussion on how it is important to give people access to vote, because she, herself, manages the polling place in her area. 

Throughout many points in Loeb’s speech, there were students, faculty, staff and other attendees nodding in agreement and acknowledging their understanding.  

Loeb left the audience with a message on persistence, noting that “looking for social change is not always easy” and that it takes time and willpower to create a more just world.  

“looking for social change is not always easy” - Loeb

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