National Leadership Forum celebrates 61st year

June 9, 2017 |

Nearly 200 students from nine states were on campus this week as part of the National Leadership Forum, a program that began 61 years ago under the direction of former Harding President George Benson. Today, the event continues as a leadership development program that brings students together for a week of labs, lectures and open discussion sessions that strengthen leadership and character.

Kim Kirkman, NLF director and associate executive director of the American Studies Institute, said the theme for this year’s program is “Liberty and Character,” and the speakers working to develop these students into leaders exhibit strong character and an understanding of liberty.

“Some students have leadership abilities and are leaders but don’t really know why people are following them or how they’re making an impact,” Kirkman said. “So our speakers give different perspectives on leadership and how they can shape their schools, communities and friends.

This year, NLF partnered with the Foundation for Economic Education to facilitate speakers and discussions. During the week, students were challenged to put what they hear from the speakers into action. Students several years ago started a small encouragement project that led to President George W. Bush declaring a National Day of Encouragement.

“One of the things that all of the speakers do is give the students something to take home with them,” Kirkman said. “We want the students to go home with the ability to see the people they’re with — their peers — as people and be able to lead them.”

Junior Bowman Johnson served as one of 10 college-aged counselors for the program. He said when students traveled to campus for the program, most of them were meeting for the first time.

“All of the groups were randomly generated, so none of them really knew each other coming into this,” Johnson said. “They had to learn quickly that even though this might be awkward at first, they have to work together and listen to each other to get things done. They’ll learn that even small friendships can lead to big things. You never know who you’ll run into when you’re older.”

Kirkman said she hoped students left with a greater sense of purpose and understanding of their abilities as a leader.

“We want these students to see that people are valuable, and that’s how you are a good leader,” Kirkman said. “You realize that the people with you and around you are valuable whether or not they’re the lowest person in American standards or far above you.”

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