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Celebrating Emerging Scholars, NSCS, and the Power of a Crazy Idea

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Last week, I had the pleasure of attending a twenty-year anniversary celebration for the National Society of Collegiate Scholars in Washington, D.C. It was a special honor to be there because I knew the founder, Steve Loflin, some twenty-five years ago before this concept had completely gelled in his mind. What started as a "crazy idea" to convene a college honor society on scholarship, leadership, and service was hatched with two of Steve's friends over a lasagna dinner at his apartment. Twenty years later, this organization is a million strong with chapters at some 400 colleges. In Steve's speech he spoke to the messiness of start-up ideas and the organic, sometimes random nature in which crazy ideas take root; an excellent perspective as the college culture can protect students from the uncertainties and ambiguities they will meet in the reality outside of school. With all of the news stories and data on how students struggle academically, emotionally, and socially, it is nice to see so many examples of students who are thriving and doing their best to make the world a better place.

Kelly Carson was an NSCS student and my first intern when I started LifeBound twelve years ago. She continued working for me the next few summers as she finished her undergrad studies at the University of Kansas, and then as she completed her MBA at Harvard. Kelly epitomizes competence, has leadership that makes the world a better place, and brings sheer joy to each exchange she has with others, in addition to her skills as a director of marketing. The evening of the event, I met the next generation of young, ambitious, and social-minded scholars like Brian Clark who, with a friend, started GradSchoolMatch.com, a website to help graduates match their interests with grad schools. I also met Daniel Horgan who is changing the world through his trainings, speaking engagements, and coaching business. There is a wealth of diversity in NSCS members from their backgrounds to their career choices, from their personal interests and passions to the ways in which they are trying to improve the world.

In the last year, I've met some remarkable high school students who may someday be NSCS members, including the wise Karen Grace from Saudi Arabia whom I blogged about last week. Cece is a high school student who is taking her fourth year of Mandarin via distance learning next year because she can't find a live fourth year Mandarin course in Colorado. Maggie is dancing her way through her arts school while balancing her AP classes and community dancing obligations out of school. Ernesto and Evelina are twins who attend different schools. Tragically, both of their parents have died and they are being raised by a distant family member. But the passion Ernesto shows for on-line video games at his vocational high school is matched by his sister's love of science and math at her more traditional high school. Ian is a hard-working student who has admirably persisted academically, while mastering classical bass and the electric guitar in a local jazz band with a skateboard as transportation. All of these students represent leaders now and in the future. For this reason, I was delighted to learn that NSCS has launched Torch and Laurel, which is an honor society for high school students where they can discover who they are through service, leadership, and lifelong learning.

Someone whose entire career is characterized by these qualities is General Colin Powell, the keynote speaker. As the founder of America's Promise Alliance, Powell has amassed the largest partnership focused on the well-being of young people with more than 400 partners since 1997. He reminded the audience of the potential within our young leaders, especially those who are first-generation without the means to get many of the resources which middle and upper middle class students take for granted. He knows of what he speaks, because he was a student who surmounted every obstacle as he persisted through his exemplary education and remarkable military career.

Steve Loflin and his committed team demonstrate an enduring truth: failure is not an option. Over the next few weeks, many young high school and college students will be graduating. I hope for all of them that they can remember the power of a crazy idea, the deep faith needed in oneself and the unknown as events unfold, and the grit to persist in the face of ever present obstacles. This is the story of launching a career, a company, a non-profit, and any worthwhile endeavor that asks us to risk. Failing is not an option when the vision to succeed is established and the efforts of a strong team turn that vision into reality.