Third-Year Law Student, University of Tennessee College of Law
Recently a student organization called Vols for Veterans, VFV for short, hosted a fundraising dinner for the General Clifton Cates Leadership Scholarship. The focus of the event this year centered on a phrase written by General Clifton Cates himself while he was serving during The Great War. With few men by his side and deliverance all but impossible, General Cates ended a penned note to his leadership with the words, “I will hold.”
Eighty-nine years later, almost to the day, another young marine was called back to action while enjoying his statutorily protected time at home. Sitting at a table with his parents, LT Travis Manion looked at his father and stated that he would answer the call. Dumbfounded, his father questioned the decision, but Manion simply replied, “If not me, then who?”
VFV formed itself around the spirit of these mantras.
Personally, I try to live every moment with the “if not me” mentality. At times I fall short. But imagine the difference we could make if just once a day we thought “if not me.” Imagine the impact of this mindset, if even half the world woke up and thought this mantra. This change in mentality would catalyze the kind of relentlessness that is just annoying enough to be effective.
What I love about this saying is its endless applicability—it applies when you walk by a piece of trash, when you see someone digging for change to buy a cup of coffee, and when you see a cause in desperate need of a champion. The beauty of asking “if not me” is that it brings thought to action. More often than not people can talk a big game about all the great ideas they have, but true leaders know how to cast those visions to bring forth a better reality.
True leaders act.
The truth is that legacies are rarely created by words alone. When I had the honor of becoming the current president of VFV, I asked myself and my team, “What is next?” More specifically, I asked my fellow third-year students, “What do we want to leave behind?” I see now that the heart of my questions was this, “What is our legacy going to be?”
In those discussions, I found a common theme—stability. Stability in our organization. Stability in our support of veterans. And stability in our community engagement.
Armed with this common theme, I walked into our first executive board meeting and wrote this mission statement on the whiteboard: “To create a sustainable internal structure that will allow College of Law students to continue this work well past the graduation of current students.”
My team and I brainstormed what this mission might look like in action. We had some great thoughts but no clue how to implement those ideas. This struggle reminded me of a lesson I learned long ago: true leaders know what they don’t know but they know the people who can help.
You, here, reading this blog post are the people who can help. You are the key to our success, and you are how we can take great ideas and turn them into actions—actions which become legacies.
I argue that the biggest need of any organization—or leadership team—is your time and your presence. In my opinion, time is far more costly than any check you can write.
With that in mind, I present each of you with a challenge:
Students, you need to find time in your busy schedules to show up to events. It’s time that we, as the next generation of professionals, start showing up for each other. Let’s start investing our time in one another so that we’re ingrained to invest time in our community after the graduation bells toll. Let’s take action and build a legacy together.
To everyone else, you need to show up too. As leaders, you all have skills, talents, and resources that can be used to benefit your community. You need to be involved in the social movements happening around you and you need to support progress. Despite the challenges we may face, the future is so incredibly bright.
I have hope that we all will answer this call, because I see leaders that will provide stability for future generations—leaders that will say “[We] will hold.” And I see a world that will ask, “If not [us], then who?”