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"A Leader Does not Wait for an Invitation"

Brandon Williams '92, Senior Director of NBA Operations, addresses student assembly on the impact of leadership.

October 3, 2012

Exeter students see many people introduce speakers at school assemblies, but they rarely see a 5th-grader in that role. On September 28, they watched as a young boy stepped up on an improvised platform. With his head barely reaching the top of the podium, he began his introduction of Brandon Williams '92 with the familiar greeting, "Good morning, Exeter!" Williams is the National Basketball Association (NBA)'s senior director of basketball operations and former member of the 1998–99 NBA Championship-winning San Antonio Spurs.

This young boy – Sam – is the grandson of Nancy MacDonald, PEA's associate director of The Exeter Fund. MacDonald worked with Williams this past year on his 20th Exeter Reunion Gift Committee. When Williams learned that MacDonald's grandson had a strong interest in the NBA, and that she and her grandson would be visiting New York, he invited Sam for a visit and tour. This was the beginning of an unlikely friendship between the NBA executive and the 5th-grader.

Williams was this year's alumni/ae council speaker for Exeter Leadership Weekend. He spoke about the collateral impact of leadership, that is, how a leader can impact another person in unexpected ways that can ripple out to others in a chain of influential impacts.

Williams first traveled to Exeter in the fall of 1989 from a small Louisiana town of 450 people. Although an "A" student and skilled basketball player back home, he soon discovered that Exeter provided a different set of challenges. "It didn't take long for my healthy confidence to turn ill. I was stunned. I never thought I'd struggle keeping up academically and athletically. The question I was facing was, 'Do I have what it takes?' And what overwhelmed me was the thought that I did not."

Several weeks into that first school year, Williams reached an emotional low point while attending a student assembly, so much so, that he left the assembly early. Belinda Tate '90, a senior, followed, sat down with him and ultimately gave Williams the support he needed. "Belinda displayed incredible leadership qualities," says Williams. "She was observant, having recognized over several weeks that my optimism had gone. She provided me direction by pointing out the value of my dorm head who could mentor and advise me. She directed me to classmate study groups that could bridge the gap in my academic understanding. And most importantly, she offered encouragement.

"In that hour or so, Belinda was as effective a leader as I've ever known. The collateral impact of her leadership was my restored confidence and the opportunity to prove myself."

Williams encouraged students to take on leadership roles. "I want Sam's presence to be a vivid reminder to all of us of the impact that we can have. You'll impact those who are particularly young who are looking up to you for their goal-setting, and model their behavior after you. This can happen not just over a three-decade age gap, but over four years, as it did for me."

He closed by saying, "A leader does not wait for an invitation. You have the ability to impact another individual: to ignite the torch of passion and determination."


Exeter Leadership Weekend

During this annual event, hundreds of Exeter alumni/ae and parent volunteers return to campus to plan initiatives such as class reunions, regional events and annual fundraising projects. Other highlights include an evening reception with the senior class, an assembly with Principal Tom Hassan and the annual presentation of the President's Awards. The Office of Institutional Advancement also arranges panel discussions with staff and faculty to give attendees insight into the student experience at Exeter and the future of the Academy.

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— Mike Catano