Dream School: Stanford/Cal Poly SLO

Life presents obstacles that appear insurmountable in the moment, yet the same challenges often develop one’s greatest character strengths. As the daughter of a serviceman, I had no idea that moving every few years would result in the development of my greatest character strength- the art of listening.

The military is transitional; military families recognize the essence of time when forming relationships. As a child, I moved eight times in eleven years; each move brought exciting new experiences and opportunities. Then, my dad retired.

We moved to a small town and I assumed life would unfold as before. However, I was in middle school now and far from a military environment. Most kids had grown up together and I was not accepted into their ranks. My eagerness to become part of the community was met with brick walls. I found myself shrinking into the shadows; my previously exuberant self fell silent.

As a freshman, I felt invisible. I joined clubs so I wouldn’t be alone at lunch. I would listen to those around me, subsequently gaining immense insight into social studies. Many teachers demanded I speak up more; I felt constantly berated for listening instead of talking. Interestingly, I found when I did speak, people paid attention and my peers began to nominate me as a leader.

I continued to pursue involvement in academic and community events. My silent leadership that was once frowned upon soon became my greatest strength. The challenge of social acceptance suddenly didn’t seem an obstacle anymore. I found I was stronger when I listened, and subsequently more influential when I spoke.

Social acceptance during formative teenage years is often a challenge. For many, the desire to gain social acceptance translates into a sacrifice of identity. I realized the challenge I faced and I handled it with class and grace. It wasn’t easy, and I certainly had no idea that what seemed such a dark time of my life would end up becoming a pivotal moment in character building. I discovered a great leader does not just speak, but truly listens.

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