Meet Our Upper School Leaders
Evan Essex ’21 Sets an Example
Evan Essex ’21 is set to graduate this spring, leaving the hallowed hallways of Cannon—and a long legacy of leadership. From serving as Head Boy for House Integritas to helping others on the Peer Support Team, Evan is someone who models our Cougar core values.
Q: You applied and were selected as Head Boy of House Integritas. What made you want to get involved with House Leadership?
A: I always viewed myself as a leader amongst my peers in team sports, however during my sophomore year at Cannon, I suffered an ACL injury. After surgery, I knew that sports weren’t an option until I recovered, so I refocused my talents on interests outside of football and wrestling. At that time the current Head Boy, a senior at Cannon and a close friend of mine, showed me the ropes of being a student leader. This inspired me to throw my hat into the ring for the Head Boy. At the time I didn’t think I had a chance, but I put in the extra effort and refocused my energies to achieve this goal.
Q: Wrangling that many Upper Schoolers can’t be easy. What has House taught you about leadership?
A: House Leadership has taught me that having a calm and collected approach to handling differing opinions has proved to be very effective. Being able to understand where someone is coming from intellectually and emotionally and responding to that makes finding solutions easier. Being able to collaborate with students together as a whole and understanding where the issues are brings better outcomes and actually solves the problem without creating a new one.
Q: You are also involved with Peer Support Team. How did you get involved and why?
A: I am a naturally good listener and approach situations with empathy. I have also helped my friends with problems or just allowed them to vent their frustrations to me as a form of “free counseling” and by just being their friend. I knew that once I made the team that I would be given the opportunity to spread positivity and help my peers through problems around stress and other issues.
Q: What have you learned from that experience?
A: The Peer Support Team has taught me how to recognize the issue of toxic relationships amongst teenagers that can be found in simple friendships as well as romantic relationships. I was surprised at how much stress, negativity, and emotional drain is caused by this situation. I also became a better friend, and I found myself being able to move through different social circles with ease.
Q: As a senior, what else have you learned about leadership from your years at Cannon?
A: Being a part of these leadership groups has given me the courage to try to stand out amongst my peers, and the transition from being only an athlete to a student leader gave me immediate recognition from faculty and administration. I was surprised by how easily I fit into this new role. At a time when I thought my “athletic career” was over, I had to reinvent myself, and the struggle to do so has been very rewarding. Cannon provides many avenues to be successful. Although I couldn’t succeed on the field, I am glad that I could be accepted as a student leader.
Q: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
A: I’d like to personally give thanks to many members of the Cannon faculty. My advisor, Mr. Smith, constantly supported me through any decisions I made during my time in the Upper School. He was one of the first people to recognize my leadership abilities and urged me to pursue either Student Council or House Leadership. I would also like to thank Mrs. Hoffman; she helped me become a better Peer Support member over the past two years by giving me the opportunity to utilize my strengths through empathy by giving school presentations and by leading group meetings. Finally, I would like to thank Dean Booker for being so reassuring and supportive of my role as Head Boy this year. It has given me a lot of confidence which will help me transition into college.
Maya Goldsberry ’22 Reflects on Her Work with the Task Force to Confront Racism, Prejudice, and Bias
Over the summer, Cannon formed a task force with the purpose of creating a path of action to confront racism, prejudice, and bias. Task force members met several times to deliver a set of potential school-wide projects and initiatives in three specific areas:
- Improving Cannon's ability to develop all learners' positive self-identities and ensuring that Cannon is a place where they find a real sense of belonging.
- Engaging in and confronting issues of inequity, inequality, racism, prejudice, and bias within our area communities.
- Building a systematic capacity for reflective and generative dialogue in our school, our communities, and our world.
Maya Goldsberry ’22 was asked to be the student representative on the task force. Over the years, Maya has helped lead the Middle School “Let’s Talk Tuesday” affinity group, worked with the Black Student Affinity Group, and has been part of the Peer Support Team. Maya also helped organize and lead a peace march of 1,000 people—including many Cannon students and faculty—through the town of Davidson last summer. We sat down with her to ask some questions.
Q: Why did you feel it was important for you to get involved with the task force?
A: I had begun finding my voice with matters of inequality and inclusion, but I still needed to learn a proper way to enact change in my community. With this task force, I had the opportunity to work with adults and learn from them.
Q: Can you tell us a little bit about the process and how you contributed?
A: I was presented with this opportunity by Dean Tom Booker (I had worked with him earlier in the summer as well.) I honestly didn’t know what to expect. First, we met to go over the task force’s purpose and planned when we could meet and how often. Mr. Horace Bryan (task force chair, parent, and former Trustee) assured us that no idea was too big. The purpose of this group was to present big ideas to the Board to improve Cannon life. He also gave us goals to keep in mind about belongingness.
At the next meeting, we discussed our ideas. Mr. Bryan had us fill out templates (they consisted of what the idea was, funding for the idea, and who would be involved.) For the next few meetings, we presented our ideas to the rest of the group. I had to work outside of the general meetings with other people to combine our ideas and make them stronger. From there, we chose the best ideas to present to the Board of Cannon.
Q: What did you learn from this experience, as well as organizing the march last summer?
A: I learned how to work with people and reach out for help. As I said, we had to work with other people to combine our ideas to create a strong one. Also, over the summer, I worked with many different Davidson churches, businesses, friends, and emergency staff to have the march be successful. The march also taught me how to work with people to successfully achieve the same goal!
Q: Why do you feel it is important for other students to stand up for what they believe in?
A: It’s important for us to learn how to work on these situations and stand up for what we believe in now, because soon we won’t have the option to not. Soon, we will be the ones in charge of leading tasks forces, offices, businesses, or projects.
Izzie Gosling's Work with the Pinky Swear Foundation
Many of our Cougars didn’t necessarily set out to lead, but rather to serve others…and wound up becoming an inspiration along the way. Izzie Gosling ’21 is a perfect example of taking a cause that hit close to home and creating a movement with far-reaching effects. Read on to learn how her work with the Pinky Swear Foundation has helped benefit children with cancer, as well as inspire others to follow her lead.
Q: How and when did you become involved with the Pinky Swear Foundation?
A: I have been working with the Pinky Swear Foundation (PSF) since I was 12 years old. (Izzie is a now a senior.) My soccer coach’s son was diagnosed with cancer and the entire soccer club rallied together to support his family. It was incredibly difficult watching Dalton and his family struggle emotionally and financially, so after learning that PSF was helping to cover their costs, I knew wanted to make a greater contribution to the cause and get more directly involved.
Q: What have been some of your tasks/accomplishments with the organization thus far?
A: For the past 5 years I have served as a member of the PSF Youth Leadership Council (YLC), which organizes and volunteers at fundraising events, plans parties for the families the foundation supports, and raises awareness in various ways.
Last year I started a Pinky Swear Club here at Cannon, which has held food/supply drives, fundraising events, and made cards for cancer patients. I have also been working with executive members of the foundation to improve the effectiveness of the YLC and establish a mentorship program within the council.
Finally, this summer I took several shaving cream pies to the face to help launch a virtual fundraising campaign, #CancerIsMessy, in lieu of the usual events, like the annual triathlon, that weren’t possible due to COVID-19.
Q: What has involvement with PSF taught you about leadership?
A: Being involved with Pinky Swear has taught me that being a leader means creating opportunities for others to demonstrate leadership and take on those roles. This year I took on the job of helping to plan the monthly YLC meetings and to transition them from being adult-led to member-led, with each member leading a different segment of the meeting. I, along with the two other seniors, introduced this idea by leading the first meeting, and then passed on our roles to other members to lead in next meeting. It was far more rewarding seeing the member I had passed on my role to present in the next meeting than doing it myself.
I want to leave the YLC confident in the contribution I have made, and I think I have done that by preparing the younger members to take on bigger leadership roles. Overall, it has taught me that the best leaders will mentor even better ones to fill their shoes, and that there is always something to learn from others.
Q: What’s an important lesson you’ve learned from your involvement with Pinky Swear?
A: An important lesson I have learned is the importance of reflection as a leader. One fundraiser I have held every year since I started high school is a dress down day for National Pinky Swear Day. Each year has been more successful than the last because I reflected on the weaknesses of the event and how it could be improved. More importantly, I learned that reflection is even more effective when done with a team who might be able to see things from a different perspective than you in order to have more success in the future.
As I reflect on my work with PSF, I have also learned the importance of resilience and being committed if you really want to make a change or see an idea come to fruition. Turning ideas into real events is one of the greatest challenges for the YLC, but it has taught me not to give up when faced with minor setbacks and that if you are really dedicated, you can make it happen.
Q: Is there anything else you’d like to share about your work with the Pinky Swear Foundation?
A: The motto of the PSF YLC is “Kids Helping Kids,” and I think that is a perfect reflection of the idea of leading by example. To me, the purpose of leading by example is to make it easier for others to follow you in a positive direction, and there is no doubt about the influence that peers have on one another.
My work with Pinky Swear has given me the reward of being a role model to younger YLC members and learning from other leaders, while giving back to families and their children who are facing extreme challenges. I continue working with Pinky Swear because I have seen the incredible impact that even the smallest gesture can have on those who are enduring difficult times, and that no act of kindness is too small.
Interested in learning more about the Pinky Swear Foundation or helping out? Visit www.pinkyswear.org.
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