A Spontaneous Decision Proves to be a Worthwhile Week

In high school, students are often faced with the challenge of choosing which clubs or activities to join. During my sophomore year, I was struggling with this until one of my teachers told me about the Scott Anderson Leadership Forum and encouraged me to apply.

I had no idea what SALF was. I hadn’t known anyone else who was applying, and I’d never heard of Scott Anderson. But on a whim, I took my teacher’s advice.

Little did I know that scraping gum off of the bottom of desks while working with a group of students I’d never met before would teach me leadership skills. Somehow, over that sticky mess, we bonded and that summer I learned skills that I hope to carry with me to college and beyond.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Scott Anderson was an acclaimed canoe adventurer, an award-winning author of three books, a musician, an F-16 fighter pilot in the Air National Guard, and a test pilot for Cirrus Design, according to his biography on the foundation’s website. He graduated from Duluth East High School and Stanford University, where he studied engineering and history.

On March 23, 1999, at 33, Anderson’s life was cut short in a plane crash. He was test flying the Cirrus SR20, a Duluth-built airplane that represented new concepts in personal aircraft safety, design, and production.

People who knew him said that “he empowered individuals to believe in themselves” and that “he viewed life as a wonderful adventure with worthy goals to be pursued and enjoyed with humor.”

The program was started in his memory in June 2003 and has continued for 10 years. Through it, hundreds of high school students have spent a week in the summer learning to become leaders in their school and community. Students from about 10 Northland-area schools participate.

For me, walking into SALF on the first day was intimidating. Not knowing anyone threw me out of my comfort zone, but that’s the idea. Students are encouraged to get rid of their “bungee buddies” – friends from their school – and meet new people from new schools. SALF teaches that it’s just as easy to make new friends by not only being a leader, but empowering others to be leaders as well.

The group of 70 students are split into small groups that are led by two area teachers or volunteers. These subgroups are created with the idea that students can open up further and lead discussions about a lecture, a game, or a leadership lesson. It was amazing how well we got along and how quickly the pre-conceived notions of each other’s schools were wiped away.

One of my fondest memories of the forum was community service day. Each small group was assigned a different service project, mine in charge of fixing up a local high school. Since it was summertime, the janitors needed help cleaning up the place after the school year.

Though my group members would much rather have been helping at the zoo or playing hopscotch at summer camps like other groups, we made the best of it. Maybe it was because we all got along so well, but more so, I think, because we could feel Anderson’s positivity within us.

And that was just one experience that showed me how much you can accomplish when everyone works together toward a common goal.

With my senior year coming up, SALF still remains one of the best weeks of my high school career. It was all because I took a risk, and one that turned out to be worthwhile.

Catherine Vaught was a Minnesota Newspaper Association Pohlad Foundation intern at the Budgeteer. She graduated from Duluth East High School in 2012.