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MC Law Graduate, County Judge Shares Secrets to Leadership Success with Student Council Leaders

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The first rule of being a good leader, according to Judge Carlyn Hicks, a Mississippi College School of Law graduate and Hinds County Court Justice, is to be a good listener.

When she told dozens of high school students attending the Capital Area Student Council Workshop at MC to place a sheet of paper on their heads and draw a picture of a house, she was met with a number of quizzical looks.

It was an exercise to demonstrate that future leaders like those assembled for the daylong workshop – which teaches how to become a responsible student council member – that they should rely on others to help guide their decisions and not depend solely on their own counsel.

“This is something that has been tried, tested, and true – in order to be a good leader, you have to listen,” Hicks said. “You have to listen to the people you lead, you have to listen to the people you are accountable to, and you have to listen to the community.

“I liked to talk a lot, but now I’m a judge, and I have to listen. When someone asks me what I do, I say I listen to people.”

The Office of Continuing Education at MC hosted the annual Capital Area Student Council Workshops for junior high school students on Nov. 8 and high school students on Nov. 9. Cheli Vance, program coordinator in Continuing Education, said between 700 and 800 students heard valuable advice from business and educational leaders, visited service booths, and participated in breakout sessions to help grow their leadership skills.

“This is a community outreach event where MC partners with the Mississippi State Association of Student Councils to host their workshops,” Vance said. “The students have an opportunity to learn how to get involved in community-service activities and fundraisers. Several students participate in MC’s Angel Tree Program by “adopting” an angel for Christmas. The MC School of Business provides refreshments, and proceeds are donated to the Buy the Farm Program through Send Relief.

“Community outreach expands to a broader context through this event, and that’s what makes this workshop so exciting. We’re bringing in student leaders, teaching them about leadership, and our MC Student Government Association emulates leadership by leading breakout groups. These students then go back to their schools across the state and share the leadership and service ideas they learned today.”

Schools, large and small, sent representatives to the event. For student council sponsors like Kelsey Treadwell of Pisgah High School, who is attempting to resurrect a once-flourishing program, the session provided an opportunity for her students to take a break from class and learn to interact with other student leaders.

“We had a dormant student council at our school until last year,” said Treadwell, who obtained her master’s degree at MC and is married to Mississippi College Hall of Famer Cameron Treadwell. “Our school has grown tremendously as people move to the Sand Hill community. We’ve seen a resurgence of students who want to get involved, be leaders in their school, and improve school spirit.

“Our students are learning what it takes to be leaders, and they’re networking with other student council members to get ideas and make connections they can take with them throughout their high school and college careers. They have enjoyed the breakout sessions with Mississippi College student government leaders who talked to them about opportunities to serve in college.”

Tylertown High School has welcomed an almost entirely new group of students onto its student council this year. Sponsor Alicia Ginn, a longtime attendee of the annual workshop at MC, said her students hone their leadership skills by attending the conference.

“These kids are at the top of their class, and they represent our school well,” Ginn said. “We encourage them not to sit by themselves, but to sit with other students and see their goals. Some of these kids have great ideas, and we would like to use some of those that have been successful at other schools.

“The exchange of ideas at this workshop has been very beneficial to us.”

The workshop began with a welcome from Mississippi College admissions counselors and a “Wakeup Call” by the MC cheerleaders. Penelope Allen, executive director of the Mississippi Association of Student Councils, provided opening remarks, and Ken Gilliam, director of MC’s Office of Continuing Education, introduced the keynote speaker.

After the keynote address, Shari Barnes, director of the MC Community Service Center, explained community giving opportunities available to the students during the workshop, and MC student government representatives led several breakout sessions with the attendees.

Hicks took an interactive approach to sharing her themes of character, development, and leadership with the high school students.

“This was something I was asked to do at a leadership seminar at the Mississippi Bar,” she said. “At the time, I thought it was crazy, but it’s something I hold with me today. I learned about vision, integrity, and trusting your intuition.”

After asking the attendees to draw the diagrams blindly, she told them to remove the pictures from the top of their heads and take a look. The audience erupted with laughter as the students examined their work.

“You had all the tools you needed to make a nice drawing,” Hicks said as she reached the object of her lesson. “You may even have had the vision for what you wanted your house to look like. But you couldn’t draw that perfect house alone.

“Leadership makes all the difference. We’re here to make a difference in the world today. You are at the top of your class, you’re in charge of your student body team, but you have to trust each other in order to be successful.”

She said accountability is another necessary component of leadership.

“To do my job as an elected official, I’m accountable to the people of Hinds County,” she said. “They get to decide whether or not I’m doing a good job. While I call myself a public servant, I’m actually a leader – but only so far as I’m allowed by my constituents who trust in me to do the right thing.

“You need support to build community. To see anything through, you need vision. And to make things happen while sticking to your principles, you need integrity.”

She challenged the students to prepare themselves to lead as quickly as possible.

“As young people, I want you to know I depend on you,” she said. “I can take this race only so far, and then I’ll have to entrust the rest of the leg to you.

“When I look out at you, what I know about our future is that it’s bold, it’s creative, and it’s bright. I am excited about where you are going to go.”

Hosting hundreds of future student leaders on the Clinton campus helped raise awareness of the high-quality education available at Mississippi College.

“This is a great opportunity for our kids,” Treadwell said. “It’s almost a mini-recruiting tour. They get to walk around the campus, go to lunch, and some of them may be interested in coming to Mississippi College.

“MC can provide opportunities for them to continue their education in a smaller college environment similar to what they’re used to at our high school. I’m excited to have them here for this workshop.”

Vance said hosting students on campus is the best advertisement MC could have.

“These students get to be part of the MC family for the day,” she said. “A couple of the high schools schedule tours for their group. It’s a tremendous opportunity to make connections with these students.

“It’s important for us to invest in our future leaders. Everyone – no matter what they’re doing – wants to pass the baton to the next generation.”

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