As a guest speaker, Devon Wasson ’13 recently shared the following words with Upper School Pride Mentors, upperclassmen who provide guidance to younger students.
I graduated from Moravian Academy in 2013, then Bucknell University in 2017. While attending Bucknell, I studied computer science and engineering and spent what precious free time I had been passionately involved in various clubs and activities. I went on to do a summer research and a semester of independent study in human-computer interaction, followed by a software engineering internship with Amazon Robotics. I was rehired to work for them full-time doing Internal Tools Development, and actually, as of yesterday have received a job offer from Google so I might be working there in the near future.
And in everything I just mentioned, in every aspect of each part of my life, I was fortunate to have amazing mentors and to be a mentor to others. This especially applies in the clubs I was involved in at Bucknell. I was the tech manager for our event space on campus. I was an orientation assistant for new student orientation. I was the chair of the student lectureship committee. I was the president of the ACM, which is the professional society for computer scientists. I was the founder of the computing and technology affinity community on campus. And in all of these things, I was continuing a legacy while leaving my own.
The question then becomes “What does it mean to leave a legacy?”
Many people will tell you that a legacy has your name tied to it. A legacy means donating enough money to the school to have a wing of the library named after you. And while that is all good and there is nothing wrong with it, that is not the only way, or even the best way, to leave a legacy. To me, the best legacies have no name tied to them.
I mentioned before that I was the president of the ACM, or the computer science professional society. I was approached by one of my professors and encouraged to run for the president of the organization. This was a professor I really respected and didn’t want to let down, so if he thought I should run, then damn it I was going to run. So I put together a successful campaign and my peers across all four years in the computer science department elected me the president of the organization.
But once I was in this position, a position of leadership, I needed to make sure I really did the best job I could. This is where leadership skills came into play. Being a leader is not about telling other people what to do and how to do it. It is about managing a group of people, utilizing their passionate and their skills, and helping a group achieve a common goal. The rest of the organization members and I had a wonderfully successful year, organizing events which saw attendance increase tenfold.
However, once the year was over, I had a decision to make. I knew I could run for president and almost certainly be elected again. This would, of course, look great for me, and I did enjoy being the president. However, I saw an opportunity to have a greater impact and ensure my legacy. What I did instead was stay in the committee but in a much less active role. I was a junior when I was president, so now as a senior, I was able to advise the current president. Being there as a resource for him allowed him to have a successful tenure as well. He then followed suit and mentored the president following him. This decision I made sparked a chain of successful organization presidents.
And this is how I left my legacy. No one today points to the ACM and says “Wow, Devon Wasson sure did a good job in making the ACM great.” Instead what they say is “Wow, the ACM sure is great.” And that is what you want.
If anything lives and dies with you, it will eventually die and no one will remember it or you. But if you work to ensure the success of the organization well into the future, then your legacy lives on. Not in your name, but in the work you did. And you leave the world just a little better of a place then when you found it.
This is what leadership is all about. Leadership is not about being the best. Leadership is not about making sure everyone knows your name. Leadership is about encouraging those around you to be the best they can be. Leadership is about taking what is around you and making it better for everyone. Leadership is about leaving a legacy. And a legacy is something that you should be able to come back to 1, 2, 5, 10 years from now, and be proud of the impact you made.
Each and every one of you has the unique opportunity to make a difference in the lives of people who are going through what you went through. Do your best to enable these people to be successful. Come back and see these people in the same role you’re in now, mentoring those who come after them. Continue the cycle of success. That is your legacy. And that is something to be proud of.