What's the 'Point?' Leadership; West Point Society focuses on nurturing tomorrow's leaders

(Created: Tuesday, April 6, 2010 4:28 PM CDT)

 Darlene Jennings would love for her son to become a leader someday.

So she drove him all the way from Dodge Center to Maple Grove, just so her son could attend the West Point Society's second annual student leadership seminar.

West Point is the Army's highly selective national institution of higher learning and leadership development.

The West Point Society of Minnesota is 50 years old and includes West Point graduates who live and work in Minnesota.

"My son is interested in going to West Point," Jennings said. "We're here to learn more about leadership opportunities and about West Point."

 Five West Point Cadets, including three from Minnesota, flew from the East Coast to attend the West Point Society of Minnesota's second annual student leadership seminar in Maple Grove. With keynote speaker and former NFL athlete Darrell Thompson (center) are Cadets (left to right) Miguel Moreno of Missouri, Benjamin Bettin of Minneapolis, Andrew Branch of Mississippi, Scott Ginther of St. Paul and Pam Baker of Rochester. (Photo by Aaron Brom)

 The second annual leadership seminar was conducted at Rush Creek Golf Club in Maple Grove. Its goal is to advance the development of leaders of character who will serve all facets of the community.

The seminar featured keynote speaker Darrell Thompson, a former University of Minnesota football standout and running back for the Green Bay Packers. Thompson is executive director of Bolder Options, working with at-risk youth to develop their self-esteem and achieve positive new life skills.

"Leadership is different in life than it is in football," Thompson told a select group of high school students from across the state. "To me the best leaders lead by example."

Thompson said his goal was "to work with kids and develop leaders."

Five West Point Cadets, including three from Minnesota, even flew from the East Coast to attend the seminar and help guide the students. Each Cadet was split into student small groups for breakout sessions.

The Cadets are trained at leading ethics discussions, which focused on relevant and realistic scenarios that challenge the participants' understanding of values, implications and outcomes.

The Cadets are getting out of school for this event "but not out of work," Col. (retired) Patrick Toffler told the students.

"We're developing leaders who can be trusted. We're developing competency so you can do it well, but it's also about developing character," Toffler said.

Roger Baldwin of the West Point Society was visible greeting guests and helping oversee the day's operations. Baldwin was very specific about the purpose of the day's events.

"The purpose is to give the students a one-day emersion into character, competence and ethics," he said. "It's of critical importance knowing what the students feel, internalizing what's right and wrong. Hopefully they'll take this back to school and make a difference in other kids' lives."

The leadership learning didn't stop at the end of the seminar. Each participant was asked to provide a follow-up letter about the three things they learned as well as three things they will do as a result of their learning.

Keynote speaker Thompson encouraged the students to continue bettering themselves.

"We teach our kids that they can set goals for themselves and achieve them," he said. "And we also show them there are other adults who care about them and want to help them succeed."


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