The Pavilion at Reston Town Center was a most fitting venue for the graduation ceremony of the 2016 classes of the non-profit Leadership Fairfax Institute (LFI). With a mission to develop “community trustees who are individually and collectively responsible for the strength of the county…to ultimately engage (them) to become agents of positive change in Fairfax County and the Northern Virginia region,” what could have been more appropriate than celebrating their success in the open-air focal point of a major area community?
As the students, staff, speakers and guests gathered for a reception and then the commencement activities under the Pavilion dome, many shoppers, diners, Town Center strollers and employees stopped to see what was happening in the area usually reserved for winter ice skating or warm weather concerts, car shows or festivals. “This is kind of cool,” said David Macintosh of Reston who noticed the proceedings as he dined alfresco at a neighboring restaurant. “They told me this was all about teaching adults to know more about our county and how to improve things. Sounds like something we need more of across the country these days.”
Leadership Fairfax was founded in 1987 by the Fairfax Chamber of Commerce. The Leadership Fairfax Institute (LFI) sponsors two 10-month long intensive leadership development programs. The LFI program is designed for those already in a leadership role from mid-level to senior, from all walks of life and representing all of the gears that drive the area’s engine--nonprofits, public service agencies, private corporations, educators, executives and volunteers. To ensure the most advantageous learning environment for these busy students, only 45-50 applicants are accepted into the program each year.
The Emerging Leaders Institute (ELI) is equally challenging and equally rewarding, bringing together about 40 young professionals for the enhancement of skills in project management, conflict resolution, communication and presentation skills and more.
There is even a two-month program in partnership with Volunteer Fairfax, the Positive Aging Coalition, George Mason University, and others for retiring or newly retiring individuals, helping to develop the skills and experiences of this group and assisting these participants in finding the best and most meaningful outlets to continue using their gifts.
There was no shortage of leaders among the presenters and speakers who addressed the graduates. Leadership Fairfax Board Chair Brian Monday from TD Bank (himself a graduate of the program), and class of ’05 graduate Leadership Fairfax President and CEO Karen Cleveland were the co-hosts for the evening.
U.S. rep. Gerry Connolly (D-11) delivered the inspiring keynote remarks. Connolly praised the work of organization, saying, “I want an informed electorate. Our community needs that. Leadership Fairfax opens your eyes to how things work and I think that makes you less cynical…and more prepared to find solutions to our challenges.”
In addition to recognizing their latest class of achievers, LFI took this opportunity to present two special kudos. Susan Sims (LFI ’12) and Suzanne Keating (LFI ’98 and a member of the LFI faculty) were both honored as recipients of the Torchbearer Award for outstanding service to the organization and the community.
Representatives from both graduating classes also spoke to the assembly. Before receiving her ELI diploma, Savannah Guernsey reminded the gathering that “great leaders are also great followers and are followed by great leaders. A large part of what we have learned is when to lead and when to follow.”
Warren Wright was the chosen speaker for the LFI graduating class. “Ours is a tale of two counties – one thriving and one struggling. I didn’t know how great the disparity was until I took this course.” Wright stated that his LFI experience not only made the situations around him clearer, they also better equipped him to work with others to find answers.
And then the time had come, and just like at any high school or college graduation, there were smiles and cheers, even a few tears and lots of handshakes, hugs and photos as the newest graduates of the Leadership Fairfax Institute programs walked across the stage, accepted their diplomas, and prepared to take their newly polished leadership skills out into our community.
For information about Leadership Fairfax and the programs offered, visit their website at www.leadershipfairfax.org. Next year’s graduates will begin their latest leadership journeys soon.