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Annual Fifth Form Retreat Prepares Students for Leadership Positions with a Focus on Serving Others

Kelly Slonaker

On the evening of February 4, the Fifth Form had their annual retreat centered on the theme of servant leadership — a philosophy in which the main goal of the leader is to serve others. 

The retreat began with an opening prayer and Director of the Center for Spirituality, Service and Justice Tracy Garcia-LaVigne introduced the School’s own Director of Health Services Colleen Cook ’02 as the guest speaker. “We are so grateful to have Ms. Cook at our School, looking after us everyday,” Tracy said. “Her spirit of generosity and deep, genuine care for others can inspire us as we begin to think more intentionally about servant leadership, identify where we’ve witnessed it in our own lives, and reflect on how to become everyday servant leaders with and for others.”

Colleen returned to Canterbury this past fall after spending several years working as a nurse in the organ transplant unit at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. After graduating from Canterbury, she received her BSN from Villanova University and obtained her MBA from Temple University. Outside of the School, Colleen is actively involved with two organizations based in Togo: Wish Them Well and El-Fazien orphanage. She recently traveled to Togo as a volunteer, and has also participated in 11 of Canterbury’s annual trips to Lourdes—three as a student and eight as the attending nurse for the group.

Colleen addressed the class and shared examples of the people in her life who have influenced and inspired her with their servant leadership, including her grandmother, her parents, and her friend Amina Capaldi (who founded Wish Them Well). She shared that a big part of what led her to choose nursing as a profession was seeing how the important people in her life prioritized helping others. Colleen noted, “I have been fortunate to have so many great examples of leaders. They taught me the importance of having a sense of gratitude, the ability to put someone else’s or a groups’ needs before your own, and that the saying ‘actions speak louder than words’ is true. Perhaps most important is to just be open to opportunities where you can positively impact someone else, even in a small way. When you do [those little] things consistently, others take notice.”

Colleen also cited her experience at Canterbury — particularly on the Lourdes service trips — as exemplifying the importance of leading to serve others: “My time at Canterbury really influenced my view of servant leadership. Outside of the mentors I met, my experience through the Lourdes trip was the most impactful. It was there that I saw people coming together from different backgrounds to have a shared experience of serving in faith and serving their fellow man.” She continued, “I often get asked why I keep going back, as this will be my 12th year since first going as a student in 2000. Admittedly, it has been hard to explain why I was choosing to use my vacation time this way, but I can say that every year I get something different out of the experience. I know that I always come back feeling recharged with a renewed sense of purpose of wanting to help others. It is there I am reminded of who I want to be.”

Following Colleen’s address, sacristans and faculty members facilitated smaller group discussions with the Fifth Form. As they begin to apply for student leadership positions for their final year, the Fifth Formers were asked to think about the qualities of servant leaders and how they can contribute to building community at our School and beyond. Canterbury has numerous leadership positions open to the student body, especially to (rising) Sixth Formers, including: sacristan, Interfaith Council member/leader, VI Form Council, International Student Ambassador, Admissions Lead Ambassador, Student Proctors (Day and Boarding), athletic team captain, elected officer of a club, and community service leader.

Thank you to Colleen for sharing her story, and to Denise Trach P ’20, ’23 for sharing her hand painted meditation stones with the class.