The Power of Leadership

Daman Wandke

On Saturday, October 9th, 2004, I was at the Washington Association of Student Councils (WASC) leadership conference. It was the second day of the three-day conference and I am getting ready to go to the dance for the attendees. I never wanted to go to a dance before because of my physical disability. Being the first dance I went to, I didn't know what to think. Before I went to the conference that morning, I asked my host family to pick me up an hour early. Mr. Demaray drove the van to the dance so I wouldn't have to deal with the bus. When I entered the gym at Centralia High School I was surprised to find many inflatable games and my peers, Klahowya high school students, playing on the inflatable activities. I decided to just hang out and take pictures, because I could not go on the games. After a while I went out an open gym door, finding the dance floor. Being dark, I had trouble taking decent pictures, so I went back into the gym and watched the students play.

Going back out by the dance floor I found the rest of my peers riding tricycles in an area full of lockers that you had to go down some stairs to access. I parked my electric scooter at the top of the stairs and watched. Not being able to participate didn't bother me; over the years I have learned how to have fun by just watching. When they were done, we decided that they needed to get in line for pictures, which was above the locker area upstairs. So Mr. Demaray, our advisor, could find me, I waited where I was, because I did not know how long the wait would be. While most people would feel excluded, I was thinking about how stupid the architect was that made both of those areas inaccessible.

While I was waiting a group of students from Henry Foss High School did something that I was not expecting! One of the students asked me, "Do you want to dance?"

"I don't know," was my answer. I did not know when my school would need me for the picture, so I didn't think that I should leave that area.

"Oh, come on," was their answer. I could not carry on a conversation with them because of the amount of noise coming from the dance floor.

"In a while," was my reply.

Making sure I didn't get out of it they said, "You have to promise."

I agreed and said, "I promise."

"We are coming back in five minutes to take you out."

I stayed there thinking about how nice they were. How they looked beyond my disability, knowing that I was no different than any of them. Hoping I would be able to talk to Mr. Demaray before they came back, I tried to make eye contact with someone from my school, which was on the balcony above me. I don't think it was even five minutes when they came back to get me.

"Ready?" was the first thing they said.

I tried to explain my situation to them but they couldn't understand.

"Come on, you promised," was the next thing.

Torn between waiting for my school and going with them, the perfect thing happened! Mr. Demaray came by to see what was going on. They explained to him what they wanted me to do. He told me they were still in line and I had at least fifteen minutes. The last thing he told me was, "Go have some fun!" Knowing that this was going to be awesome, I forced my digital camera towards Mr. Demaray. He quickly understood why, nodding his head yes.

Not knowing what to expect I followed them onto the dance floor. Rock and roll music, my favorite genre, was playing. Trying not to run into any dancers was a challenge. They got into a single file line behind me and helped me start a train. Yelling at other students to join onto the end, we made a train and I was involved! I was overwhelmed with joy and excitement, trying not to run into any dancers. One of the students who first asked me to dance gave me a light-up necklace to tap the people in front of me to either join or move out of my way. After doing the train for a few minutes, I thought they were done with their plan, but I was wrong. The next thing they did involved all of the dancers who were in the middle of the dance floor. They had everyone make a circle and then led me into the center. I was dancing with everyone around me. While I was dancing, many people took off their light up necklaces and put them on me and my scooter in every place possible. After five-to-ten minutes of dancing I started getting tired, but I didn't want to stop. Finally, they asked me if I was ready to be done and I was. Making my way off the dance floor, I saw Mr. Demaray, armed with my camera ready to snap my picture.

Mr. Demaray told me I did awesome and that it was almost time to get our picture taken up on the balcony. He already had the best route to get up on the balcony scouted out. He led me out the exterior doors onto a patio and into a propped open door (that was locked from the outside). Now we were at the bottom of the stairs on the backside of the balcony. I parked next to the stairs while he went up to check on our group. While I waited for him to come back I reflected on what happened on the dance floor. I will never forget that moment. With the unbelievable power of leadership that group had, they helped me to learn two things: I can be involved in any activity, and I need to reach out to other people in the same way. Mr. Demaray and Ms. Valentin (another one of our advisors) helped me walk up the stairs to get my picture taken with the rest of the group. I don't know if the other Klahowya Eagles watched from the balcony or heard the news, either way they were congratulating me on what happened. After getting our picture taken I went back into the gym and hung out, watching the kids play games.

The Henry Foss Falcons, who were the amazing leaders, came and found me after awhile. They invited me to be a Falcon. Your school or abilities don't limit you from being in different groups. They told me they were just about ready to get their school's picture taken and wanting me in it. That way they could always remember the accomplishment that came from their leadership skills. I agreed and Mr. Demaray helped me get to and from the balcony. After the picture I went back out into the gym. I had an opportunity that most people do not get; I was both an Eagle and a Falcon at once.

After a while the same leaders came to me again. "Do you want to go dancing again?" they asked.

"Yeah!" was my answer.

We went out on the dance floor again and they had everyone circle around me, like before. This time they had another idea. They asked me, "What's your name?" Knowing they would not be able to hear me I showed them my name tag. They read it and yelled to the crowd around us, "His name is Daman." Everyone started chanting my name while we danced. This was even more overwhelming! Then, the DJ threw a shirt to the crowd. They collected it from the person that grabbed it and helped me get it on. We danced for a while and then when I got tired they helped me clear a path off the dance floor. When we got off the dance floor, one of them gave me a stocking cap from their school, a Falcons hat.

They ran off, ready to execute their next plan! I went out into the gym and told Mr. Demaray what happened. My host family showed up and I told them how much fun I was having. They told me that they would wait until I was ready to leave. The Falcons found me once again, this time with many souvenirs in their hands. They gave me spirit gear they had collected from fellow students. Then, Mr. Demaray took a picture of us. I collected their e-mail addresses so we could stay in touch. I hung out for a few more minutes and then left to go to my host family's house.

This day was amazing and overwhelming! This shows how some people can look beyond the surface, recognizing a person's potential. Leaders can help leaders. But more importantly, leaders can help others become leaders. When you get one thousand leaders together, the possibilities are endless! This leadership conference was the first overnight conference I went to. Since then, it has inspired me to take my girlfriend to Homecoming and go to the Josten's Leadership Conference. At the Homecoming dance I had one of my friends help me start a train. This showed my friend and me how there are two major groups in life: the welcoming and the discriminating; an experience that changed his life. At Josten's, the Henry Foss Falcons were there and I got to, once again, be an Eagle and a Falcon. I plan on going to the three-day state DECA conference this month and run for ASB President. During WASC I got a total of twelve hours of sleep! When I got back home my mom asked me if I had fun, Mr. Demaray answered by saying, "He made about one thousand new friends and that's not an exaggeration!"