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Opinion

Leadership organization brings students together

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October 10, 2014

The school year has hastily hit October but no worries, there is still a long way ahead of us. There are new events that are approaching, new students preparing to work for success in college, and student organizations looking to integrate its fellow UW-River Falls students.

I don’t want to exclude other UWRF student organizations because they all have dedicated their time to integrate students to become better leaders, thinkers and citizens, but for me, there is one particular student organization that changed my life: UWRF Students Today, Leaders Forever (STLF).

During spring break of last year, the STLF traveled down to Houston, Texas. A fellow UWRF student, Ashley Holmes, and I were kindly offered an opportunity to represent UWRF by speaking in front of other respectable schools.

Standing in front of those schools and looking straight at the eyes of the STLF students, the words I passionately spoke were: “What I learned most about these people were their strengths. I can honestly call them my family.”

Writing this article, I continue to call them my family, but to comprehend how they became my family, I would like to demonstrate my experience within STLF from the beginning. STLF was founded on Sept. 18, 2003, at the University of Minnesota by four college freshmen: Brian Peterson, Greg Tehven, Irene Fernando and Nick Lindberg. According to the STLF website, these four friends shared a late night of “chatting and sharing about their lives and how they could make a difference, but most importantly — they were dreaming.”

They expanded that dream throughout colleges, high schools, and middle schools in the country. The main goal of STLF is “to provide leadership experience and encourage students to become catalysts for positive change in their own lives, schools, and communities.”

Within this mission, one will engage in leadership and taking action to provide positivity to others and to come to self-discovery. They sure did a great job. Within STLF, my family and I vigorously traveled through six states, but as we traveled through the states, we came to show appreciation and respect for the people and the landmarks. I remember vacationing in Florida, California, Canada and South Dakota with my actual family, but I was a little kid, so I had no perception of the tourist landmarks of those states except for the stereotypical landmarks of Disney World or Niagara Falls.

My family and I traveled from Memphis, Tennessee, to see the home of Elvis Presley, to walking down Beale Street — the street of the blues clubs and restaurants — to the beautiful downtown of Houston. Within these states, I came to sharing an affectionate love and appreciation.

During our time in Columbus, Mississippi, we volunteered at the Friendship Cemetery, a home for people who fought in the Civil War. These historical landmarks were raw and authentic for they provoked me to be fully aware that our past made us who we are today.

My mom always reminded me, “leave the past behind;” she is correct, my past is far behind, but I can’t help evoking my past within my mind but sharing it with the people I love allows me to become a monumental and positive person. We can walk on the sidewalks of campus, sit in the same classroom, eat at the same table, and party like there’s no tomorrow, but what we must never do is judge people for they are because everyone is vigorously battling with life.

My STLF family came to sharing our darkest night of confessing our fears, our demons, our struggles, and our family issues; but the greatest reward we shared was our bond with each other. Everyone has an obstacle and it can be a burden on the shoulder.

As we live our lives with the power of individuality, we must realize that we are in it together. The fellow students in STLF became my family because they taught me about their flaws and imperfections; their goals and dreams; and their strengths and weaknesses. And they taught me about hope. I humbly say on behalf of my family and my self-discovery that we have become the light at the end of the tunnel.

Billy Thao is a student at UW-River Falls.