While SHSU students may attend lectures every day, it’s not every day they hear lectures from public figures with the stature of General Stanley McChrystal. But three LEAP students were able to cap their fall semester by attending an in-person and extended presentation on leadership by the four-star general. It was “not only a great way to the end the semester,” noted SHSU student and active-duty Army Sergeant Erick Rodas, “but also a highlight of my education at SHSU.”
The event was made possible by the LEAP Center’s relationship with the World Affairs Council of Greater Houston, which hosted General McChrystal. The students were provided second-row seats…
…at beautiful The Ballroom at Bayou Place in Houston…
…while also receiving copies of the latest of McChrystal’s books, “Leaders: Myth and Reality.”
Following an introduction by WAC Executive Director Maryanne Maldonado…
…and typically fine moderation by WAC Program Director Ronana O’Malley, McChrystal highlighted figures such as Martin Luther King, Jr, who—while in his 20s and 30s—reformed laws on race to provide greater equality for more Americans. He did so, according to McChrystal, by serving as a symbol, organizational head, spokesperson, chief negotiator, and unifier of an unruly and unpredictable movement. His actions—often taken under extreme duress—were tactically essential to the success of the civil rights movement, but these actions also “resonated with group values” of those who supported the civil rights movement, allowing his spirit to lead a cause even after his death.
A more recent death—that of President Bush—also prompted thoughts from McChrystal. He praised the former President for his leadership during the Persian Gulf War—“great team management”—and for his dignity, kindness, and humanity. On a personal note, he recalled receiving a phone call on the morning of his retirement from President Bush, whom he had never met. President Bush spoke with McChrystal for about 10 minutes, thanking him for his service to the country. It was a simple act of kindness, but one that symbolized Bush’s larger approach to governance.
While separated by race, life-span, and battles, Bush and King both perceived service as essential to leadership, and both reflected the concept of “active citizenship,” which McChrystal praised.
Indeed, McChrystal explicitly called for a national service program, whereby “students have the chance to learn citizenship not only in civics classes, but also by going out and experiencing it.”
For LEAP students, it was both a civics lesson and a unique experience, one made by more rich by the presence of another civic leader: Joanne King Herring. Ms. Herring is an author, former honorary consul to Pakistan, and the host of a long-running Houston television show, but she is best known for engineering United States support for Afghanistan in its resistance to the Soviet invasion in the late 1970s and 1980s. She was portrayed by Julia Roberts in the 2007 film, “Charlie Wilson’s War,” which traces her collaboration with US Representative Charlie Wilson (who, incidentally, represented Huntsville, Texas) to repel the spread of Communism.
Her presence at the event was prompted by her interest in General McChrystal’s career in the Middle East, but she gladly took time to speak with SHSU students.
Sharing anecdotes with the students—including one in which she travelled to the Middle East and surreptitiously filmed the Russian aggression while disguising herself as a man and, at least on one occasion, hiding in a barrel—encouraging them in their studies, and discussing policy, Ms. Herring proved both informative and entertaining.
“It was a wonderful and unexpected surprise,” said Brittany Gibson, a freshman at SHSU. “I didn’t really expect to end my first semester in college by hearing from two such accomplished leaders.”
Reflecting further on the evening’s events, the LEAP students noted inspiration by both McChrystal and Herring to serve—and to lead. While their leadership styles and efforts played out in similar geographic theaters but from vastly different approaches, the similarities can be summed in the words of our University’s namesake, “A leader is someone who helps improve the lives of other people or improve the system they live under.”
These were stirring thoughts for the LEAP students, who capped their nights by having their books signed…
…sharing a few words with the General…
It was another wonderful evening at a World Affairs Council event for LEAP Students, who met two amazing leaders, learned a lot, and enjoyed themselves in every way.