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Leadership Lessons From Graduation Speakers: Dolores Huerta

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Graduation speeches. There are two kinds and really nothing in between: Those that are inspiring and make your heart burst out of your chest, and those that you forget five minutes after you've heard them.

Last Sunday, I had the pleasure of hearing three graduation speakers that left my heart singing and soul yearning for more, especially as I saw them as miniature case studies for women in leadership. I'd like to spend a little time writing and reflecting on each one, starting with Dolores Huerta. That's right, the Dolores Huerta.

(*History lesson alert*) For those of you that aren't familiar with Dolores Huerta, she is the epitome of a servant leader. Her life has been spent fighting for the rights of farm workers, labor rights, and raising the voices of the voiceless. She is one of the foremost civil rights leaders of this day and age.

She has worked tirelessly for decades, advocating for the social and economic rights of migrant workers. In 1960, she created the Agricultural Workers Association, as well what would grow into the United Farm Workers (UFW). Huerta advocated so fiercely for the rights of those who were voiceless, she almost lost her life in 1988, when she was severely beaten by San Francisco police while protesting against then president George H.W. Bush's policies. 

There is so much more to her journey as a civil rights leader, and I encourage you to read and learn more. What I want to focus on today are some of the points she mentioned in her speech, as well as a few that impacted my thoughts and are lingering in my head after reading her biographical information. 

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Lessons for leaders from Dolores Huerta, especially as we think about raising and supporting the next generation of leaders:

1. Give to the world. Huerta was encouraged by her mother from an early age to give something back to the world. What would happen if every child had that type of nudging from their parents, to be servants to the world around us? Beautiful things.

2. Big leadership doesn't always equate to size. She is a tiny but mighty force. Though seeming like a fragile grandmother-type figure, she brought a crowd to tears, to laughter, and then led them to dreaming of changing the world. Lesson learned: Don't judge a book by its cover or the effectiveness of a leader by their appearance. Subtle and sweet can be mightier and more powerful than any size.

3. Age is not a barrier. Are you 14 and have a seed of an idea to impact your community? Are you retired and think that your sway in educational change has lessened? Huerta is 87. 87! Age is just a number...young, old, or in between.

4. We lead because we must.  If this quote below is not a call to action that speaks to education leaders or all leaders who care about their fellow humans, I don't know what is. That's our "why" in education, as Simon Sinek outlines in his work (watch this Ted Talk and you'll see what I mean).

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5. An educated society is an empowered society. Why is education important to all types of leadership? Because in our classrooms, we are raising the next generation of leaders. We are helping kids learn to be global citizens, to embrace differences, to learn from and with those who look different than us. 

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6. Labor unions are the backbone of our progress. Where would I be without my teachers association? Not where I am today. I hear and understand where people are coming from when they complain about unions in their schools and districts, but you know what? I think those comments are ignorant to the history and role that labor unions have played in the success of our country, and especially the education profession. I don't think they fully understand what they still do for teachers and students today. This is my love letter for the unions that I have had the privilege of being a part of: Thank you for allowing me to do my job as a teacher and a leader. Thank you for the opportunities you have given me and my colleagues, and most importantly, my students. You have been integral to my leadership journey.

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7. We should be measured by the number of leaders we create. I love this quote. No wait, I want to LIVE for this quote. What if we measured leadership by the number of leaders created? The quality? Those that we helped nudge and lift up? That's impact. That's how I want to be thought of and what we should all strive to be: Leaders who create more leaders. With our colleagues and with the students in our classrooms. (Excuse the typo...I was tweeting from stage in real time as she was dropping these GEMS!)

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8. Be involved and aware with local politics. She urged the crowd to get involved. ESPECIALLY WITH LOCAL SCHOOL BOARDS (Chelsea, this is for you I'm sure, my dear!). Huerta found local engagement in politics to be meaningful, and believes in the power of the next generation and our duty to ensure their path. Like I mentioned last week, WHAT IF we had more teachers on local school boards? What if?

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9. WHAT IF we had more female leaders? And I'm not going to elaborate on this last one, a quote she mentioned from Coretta Scott King. It speaks for itself. #Truth

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This blog post is dedicated to the seven veteran teachers who graced the commencement stage at Mount Holyoke College last weekend as the first graduating cohort in our Master of Arts in Leadership Program. Women who will change the world and education. Wonders. 

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Photos courtesy of Eric Guo and ThinkPublic.

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The opinions expressed in An Edugeek’s Guide to K-12 Practice and Policy are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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