Julia Owaidat, ’16, presents on April 15, 2015, about a five-kilometer run she was organizing. Owaidat discussed her interest in the run and how to raise money for it. (Photo courtesy of Joanne Melinson)

New leadership lunch coordinator continues decade-long tradition

In 2009, Alexandra Bell, ’07, introduced leadership lunches, and they have been at Country Day ever since. According to adviser Joanne Melinson, the lunches are designed for Country Day students who have leadership positions or experiences that contribute to leadership skills outside of school. 

“This gives an opportunity for students to publicize interesting activities that are not at school,” Melinson said. “We always see people winning awards for things they do at school, but we rarely recognize students who do unique activities outside of school.”

Melinson said anyone can speak at the lunches.

“Leadership doesn’t always mean being in charge of something,” Melinson said. “Just speaking in the lunches about something you’re passionate about is a form of leadership. Anyone can do them.”

In a poll of 109 high school students on Nov. 19, only 28% knew what leadership lunches are.

“Ever since 2014, leadership lunches started becoming less popular,” Melinson  said. 

According to Melinson, over the past few years, some students have canceled their presentations at the last minute. Last year, no one volunteered to be the coordinator, so Melinson stepped in. 

According to Melinson, leadership lunches are run by students and arranged by the coordinator, who is a high school student. For the 2019-20 school year, sophomore Hailey Fesai offered to be the coordinator.

Fesai said she learned about leadership lunches from an email that Melinson sent to the sophomore class, asking for coordinator volunteers.

“I’m the type of person who loves to meet people and learn new things about them,” Fesai said. “The minute I heard about this, I knew this would be something that I would love to do.”

Fesai volunteers for the Taylor Family Foundation, a Livermore-based nonprofit organization that helps Northern California children with illnesses and disabilities.

For the lunches, Fesai is in charge of recruiting speakers, scheduling, setting up, providing snacks and cleaning up. 

“I’m just the adviser,” Melinson said. “The coordinators are in charge of everything. And in the past, some students wanted to share the responsibility, so we have had multiple coordinators.”

Melinson said she usually first asks seniors or juniors about coordinating, but Fesai was the only student who showed interest.

Fesai said she hopes the lunches will bring Country Day students closer.

“It’s surprising to realize that you go to school with these people every day, but you barely know anything about what they do outside of school,” Fesai said. “If students hear something that’s interesting, it encourages them to do something similar or research more about it.”

Head of high school Brooke Wells, who has attended most of the leadership lunches, agreed with Fesai and said they are interesting to watch.

“So many people do cool internships and have a lot of experiences to share with the school,” Wells said.

The most recent leadership lunch was last January. Bella Mathisen, ’19, spoke about decriminalizing sex work. 

The lunches are held in the Matthews Library. Presenters usually speak for about 25 minutes, but if they need more time, they can use the entire lunch period. 

Melinson said the lunches are very adaptable and differ based on the student and topic. Students accompany their speech with photos, slideshows, demonstrations, posters or other objects.

“We had a student talk about Hmong traditions, so they brought in dresses to look at and hats to try on,” Melinson said. “We also had a panel of three students answer questions about living in the Middle East.”

According to Melinson, in the past, high schoolers have been the only presenters. The audience includes interested students and faculty. 

However, Fesai said she wants to expand this opportunity to middle schoolers.

“We finally have a schedule where the lunch timing matches up, so we are more than happy to incorporate eager students,” Fesai said. “I know many middle schoolers who do cool things.”

Fesai said she plans to have the lunches once a month from December to April. 

However, no one has approached her about presenting. If that continues, Fesai said the lunches will be postponed. According to the poll, 66% of students said they participate in some form of leadership outside of school, but only four people said they are interested in speaking.

Fesai said she wants to attract more students to present by advertising at school-wide events like Open House and announcing during morning meetings to high school students.

Melinson said one of her favorite leadership lunches was by Shaun Shah, ’12. 

“(Shah) taught and choreographed a dance with his friends as a demonstration,” Melinson said. “I will never forget that — it was so entertaining and hilarious.”

—Sanjana Anand

Originally published in the Dec. 17 edition of the Octagon.

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