You Cannot Be What You Cannot See

James Layman, Director of Student Programs, AWSL
Nov 09, 2020


The 2020 AWSL Virtual Fall Conference was a smashing success! With over 120 schools, and over 5,000 attendees, the conference served its purpose of creating leadership opportunities that support and increase the academic and social success of each and every student. 

Yes, we can celebrate the number of participants, schools, and students who attended. However, the success of this conference lies in who was able to attend. 

With the need to switch to a virtual format, we invited and encouraged schools to bring as many students as they wanted. Focusing on equity, becoming while doing, and the belief that all students can lead, we hoped that students who had never attended a conference of any kind, especially a 'leadership' conference who could learn, grow, connect, and see the leadership abilities within them. 

We hoped that maybe this conference would allow students to step into themselves for the first time and see that - YES! All students can lead. 

Two reflections from the conference resonated with me:

"I enjoyed the conference very much and hope the ASB members did too. I never thought I could be a leader, but after this, I see there are ways that I can be a leader in the world. Becoming a good leader is my #1 goal, and I know AWSL will help me with the skills I need to become a good leader." 

"I have never seen a black keynote speaker before... and I saw two. As a black kid I have never had a black teacher, so seeing black speakers was really cool to me."

The second reflection serves as a reminder of how we are actively working towards our goals centered around equity. In June, AWSL and AWSP both put out equity statements and our intentions moving forward. 

AWSL's statement said, "We acknowledge that we have work to do. We are committed to learning more and teaching more about how to be not just non-racist but anti-racist. We are committed today to further engage on these vital issues with people of color who play a vital role in our organization's success. Together we will make AWSL a better, more inclusive, and anti-racist space for all students, educators, and stakeholders. We remain committed to creating a world where diversity, equity, and inclusion are no longer merely words, but thoughts translated into actions."

Our 2020 Fall Conference was a step in the right direction. Representation matters... "You cannot be what you cannot see." We hope students could see themselves, maybe for the first time, as agents of leadership in their schools and the world. 


  • AWSL
  • student leadership
  • Hope
  • Closing the Gap

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