May 23, 2016

On leadership, personal sacrifices and getting up at 6 a.m.

Catherine Medin '16 gives the 2016 Spring Commencement address. Photo: By Rebecca Studios.

Each year, the University community nominates a senior to speak on behalf of the graduating class. The speaker chosen for Spring Commencement 2016 was Catherine Medin '16, graduating summa cum laude and Top 2 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English.

With six siblings, a gig in her family's Christian rock band and membership in two honor societies, Medin is an example of the creative and engaged leaders St. Catherine University strives to educate. Here is her speech in its entirety.


Seven years ago, my dad decided to start waking the family up at 6:00 every morning for Bible studies, or what I like to call "cleverly disguised family meetings." 6 am is a golden time of the morning, really, when the sun is still asleep, and even the birds aren't done sipping their coffee. But with our notebooks in hand and a newly developed adoration for caffeine, my siblings and I listened while my dad taught us what I still consider the most crucial life lesson: He said that influential leaders are not those who stand on everyone else's shoulders and demand attention and respect. Influential leaders, he said, are the people who selflessly serve others.

When I arrived on campus, I realized that St. Catherine University would carry on my dad's message. During orientation, we all learned the university's mission statement, which is to educate women to lead and influence. I heard those words so many times that they almost lost their meaning. What is leadership? The Oxford English Dictionary says that to lead is "to conduct" or to cause others to come along with you. Leadership, then, means having followers, but anyone with a Twitter account has followers. I think that leadership is much more. As my dad said, leadership means putting others first. But a leader also influences others to recognize their own potential, cultivating more trailblazers and starting movements. Being influential like that is demanding. If you consider some influential leaders of the past — Martin Luther King Junior, Mother Teresa, or Rosa Parks — they have something in common. Each of them made sacrifices — sacrifices of safety, time, and personal comforts — in order to make the world better and inspire others to do the same.

My belief in influential, selfless leadership runs deep, so I've tried to embrace it in my own work on campus. As an RA, or resident advisor, I lived on the 3rd floor of Crandall Hall where I supervised 45 students. I've been a part-time counselor-police officer-event coordinator-cook-cleaner-parent who lives and breathes school spirit. I had many opportunities to be an influential leader. I often traded time to work on my own studies to help residents through homesickness; I gave up a lot of sleep to answer knocks at my door when students were facing emergencies. I stayed on campus over many weekends with students who couldn't go home, and sometimes even brought those students home with me.

Over time, I learned how my work had touched others: One resident told me that my integrity had inspired her to stand up for her beliefs. Another student took on 18 credits because she said I had strengthened her self-confidence. Perhaps the most fulfilling part of my job was when a student applying to be an RA said that I was her role model — that I influenced her to lead next year's students. I hope that along the way I have inspired other students to fulfill their potential as well.

As I finish my time here, I am struck by the amount of energy that I have seen students, faculty, and staff dedicate to others. An academic education is not enough for the students here — we strive for something more. I've watched Katies drive to Feed My Starving Children and Harvest Heartland on Saturday mornings when all of their friends were sleeping. I have seen senior students putting what little free time they had into welcoming new students to our campus, and I have even seen professors meeting with students outside of office hours when they could have been home with their families. Influential leadership demands dedication and personal sacrifices, both of which I see daily on this campus.

Influential leadership is accomplished not only through selflessness but also through a belief that leaders have a responsibility to strengthen others. Who better exemplifies those convictions than Mother Antonia, founder of St. Kate's, who dedicated her life to women's education? It is my hope that we, the graduates of 2016, will also empower others to transform their communities. Whether you are a nursing or social work major who uses your degree to heal; an education major who teaches and encourages others; an art major, organizing gallery shows; or an ASL major, bridging communications gaps, you can all be leaders.

Now that I'm a college graduate, I will move out of my childhood home. I will no longer hear my dad's early morning wake-up calls... but I'll wake up early anyway. I will use that time to continue refining my leadership skills, as I aspire — like my father — to train the next group of influential leaders. I encourage all of you to do the same. Thank you.

By Catherine Medin '16