Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks z”l said: “A leader should never try to be all things to all people. A leader should be content to be what he or she is. Leaders must have the strength to know what they cannot be if they are to have the courage to be themselves.”
Four years ago, at the start of my college journey, this quote would not have been as meaningful as it is to me now. Four years ago, I thought I had discovered my truth and was ready to rule the world.
Well, this may surprise you, but that 18-year-old was not ready.
When I started at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, I had one goal for myself: step into this new part of life as my truest, best self. Looking back, I didn’t really know what that meant. I can’t say I was 100% successful in reaching this goal, but it was always a motivator. A mantra.
As I went through my years at school, through the whirlwind that was freshman year of college and the COVID pandemic, I changed. I had experiences that made me grow as a person, and as a Jew.
Actively choosing to celebrate the Jewish holidays away from home brought me closer to my Judaism and strengthened my connection to the broader Jewish community. I learned what it meant to be my authentic self, exploring what true friendship is and how to fully show up as myself in every single situation.
Hillel taught me what it meant to have a community, a kehillah, that I could count on and trust to never judge me. I learned to find my voice and use it to inspire others. I have begun to trust myself and be proud of who I am and what I do.
Four years and four Hillel board positions later, I can understand why I ended up where I am today. From the moment I stepped onto the Cal Poly San Luis Obispo campus and into the Hillel community, I knew I had found my place. Did I have any idea that I would be president of the student board one day? I’ll admit, that thought crossed my mind. But I knew it was something that I wanted to do with intention and vision.
Flash forward to the end of my junior year when I made the decision to apply for San Luis Obispo Hillel student president. Although I had seen other presidencies play out over my years on the Hillel student board, I knew I had to make it my own.
Now, as my own term comes to an end, I reflect. This past year has shown me that I have what it takes to be a leader, however scary and frustrating it may be at times. In moments of doubt, I take a deep breath and remember my mantra. I know that as long as I stay true to myself, then I will lead with intention and purpose. Learning to delegate and not put everything on myself has been an incredibly valuable skill to gain.
The magical thing about being president of an organization like Hillel is that it not only has boosted my confidence; it has also connected me to other students in the Jewish community. I have learned so much from every single person I have interacted with and continue to be inspired by the leaders of the future. There is something special about encouraging others to step up, be their best selves, and use their voices for good. Sometimes all you need is someone to believe in you. But, most importantly, YOU need to believe in yourself.
I can’t believe my time at Hillel and Cal Poly is coming to a close, but I am beyond grateful for everything I have learned, all the experiences I have had, and all the people I have met.
If there is one big takeaway I can emphasize, it is this: be yourself. Shocking, I know. But I mean it. The good times, the not-so-good times. Own it all. If you do, the potential for human connection and community will grow exponentially. And that is something we all need.
Emma Tick-Raker is a senior at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.