2014 Leadership Conference Reflection: Lance Menard
August 18, 2014
Nine months ago, my friend and roommate Austin Edwards approached me with a proposal: Create a club for atheists and nonbelievers at our university. I was apprehensive at first, but after a short while, I agreed that it was a good plan, and we went about organizing a pilot for a discussion group-style club.
The pilot went well, and we decided to start regular weekly meetings. We teamed up with another friend – Jason Chapman – to form the executive board, and started going through the process of obtaining student government approval. Our meetings were… interesting, I’d say. Somewhat sparsely attended and not particularly well planned, we still had a good time, and had a few meaningful discussions, but honestly, we lacked a direction and purpose for our club.
Bear with me, this is actually going somewhere.
A few months ago, that same friend mentioned that the group we had affiliated with, Center for Inquiry, was holding a leadership conference in New York. Once more, I was apprehensive – my experience with conferences was that they were usually a waste of time, particularly ones that require you to drive six hours to get there – but once again, after a short while, I reluctantly agreed. In retrospect, that was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
Time passed, the end of July approached, and when Thursday the 24th rolled around, we packed ourselves into a car and headed off to Amherst. I spent the whole six hour drive wondering what to expect; I had no idea what size the event was, what sort of content would be presented, or even what kind of people attended such a conference (although I was obviously one of them, so I should have had some idea there!).
Finally, around 5pm, we arrived at CFI headquarters – and thus commenced what may have been the best (and most sleep-deprived) 72 hours of my life so far.
Even though I’ve had nearly a week to recuperate, the weekend is still a blur: a blur of incredible people, amazing workshops and lectures, and – of course – food. I remember looking at the schedule Thursday evening and thinking, “How in the world are they going to fit this all in!?” – but even more than managing it, the CFI Outreach team pulled it off in style.
Over the weekend, I met some of the most incredible people in my life, and I made more friends in one short weekend than I did in the prior two years of college combined. Kristen, Lara, Neal, Ryan, Ashton, Isaiah, Christine, Laurelin, the whole CFI Outreach team, the speakers and presenters… sadly, I don’t have space to list every attendee of the conference, but you get the idea. Eating meals together, watching movies projected on a wall in the courtyard at two in the morning, and discussing the finer points of running secular groups across the nation, I’ve managed to forge bonds that I’m quite confident aren’t going anywhere.
I took pages and pages of notes. Whether from Ron Lindsay’s presentation on the Scope of Humanism, Eddie Tabash’s incredibly informative speech on separation of church and state, or Stef’s lecture on succession planning, I learned things that I didn’t even know I needed to learn. I’ve gained knowledge that will stick around – knowledge that will help shape me and my interactions with others for the rest of college and beyond.
I gained skills ranging from organizing activism campaigns (thanks to Desiree Schell) to building successful and dynamic teams (systems drive behaviors, right, Michael?) . These skills, and many others I learned, I’m already applying, planning for the next year with our club - ready to go out and make a difference.
Which brings me to the final but most important thing I took away from that weekend… purpose. Between Ben Blanchard showing us all what it truly means to be human and James Croft making us all want to cry with his closing speech, I’ve gained an inspiration I couldn’t buy for any price. Thanks to the incredible energy and love and passion of the people I found in Amherst, I now have a direction and meaning to apply, not only to our club, but to my life as a whole; and I know that, with the inspiration and support of the dozens of friends I made, the skills and knowledge I gained, and that overarching drive, I have what I need.
Thanks to a conference I almost didn’t go to, I have what I need to inspire myself and others; I have what I need to persevere even when no visible progress is made; and I have what I need to make a lasting and meaningful impact on society and the people around me. If the other students who attended the conference feel even half as inspired as I do, it’s going to be a hell of a year.
About the Author: Lance MenardLance Menard is junior studying computer science at Kettering University. He is the Director of Education and a founding member of the brand-new Kettering Secular Skeptics, a group designed to fill a previously vacant role at Kettering and in the surrounding community. He enjoys cooking, making music, reading, and life in general.
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