After 8 years as a student leader, this is what I learnt

Gabrielle Lee Kurniawan // February 17, 2021, 6:27 pm

Student leader 7 years

If you’re thinking of stepping into student leadership, you’ll probably come across this set of questions at some point or another.

  • What is leadership to you?
  • What are your strengths?
  • What’s an experience you had in which you demonstrated strength, perseverance or initiative?

And then there’s the one that’s never asked (and perhaps the most important!): Should you be a student leader?

I was driving myself to exhaustion and frustration… I was so stressed I really thought I was going to give up.

I’ve always longed for a clear answer. Perhaps there isn’t one. I’ve seen many students come and go who are pushed into student leadership by the pressure of their parents and peers, and face overwhelming stress to prove themselves.

I remember when I was campaigning for a particular position, and I felt like I was driving myself to exhaustion and frustration as I skipped recesses to put up posters and stayed up until 3 am to prepare campaign materials.

The relationship between all of those who campaigned, though previously friends, grew strangely cold, and at one point I was so stressed I really thought I was going to give up.

“I felt like the dumbest student in school”

And though I cannot imagine doing such a thing anymore, I understand why I did it.

Many a time, we barely consider what we are meant to do. Instead, we rush headlong after a desire for validation and recognition.

In my eight years of being in positions such as prefect, student councillor and president, I have been fortunate to grow in faith. I’ve learnt to take some of these questions to God in prayer.

But alas, there is rarely a clear answer written in the clouds in moments of doubt. So how do we know? How can we tell if we are meant to embark on this journey?

Maybe the quintessential student leadership question is a good place to start: Why do you want to be a student leader?


When I was applying to be a prefect, I remember having nagging voices at the back of my mind that whispered about how cool it’d be to wear a special uniform and participate in the investiture ceremony.

And when it was my turn to be a prefect senior, I remember reading through a countless number of answers to this question.

I want to give back to the school. I want to serve my community. I was inspired by a senior and want to be like them.

But I think we need a higher reason. So what about tracing our motivations back to God?

You want me to lead?

The problem with the above-listed reasons, along with many others, is that at the end of the day, they tend to run out on you.

Halfway through your term, you’ll realise that the motivations you thought you had are not quite enough, or maybe they were diluted with a little more personal greed than you first thought.

I want to give back to the school? It’s easy to become frustrated with the ineffectiveness of your efforts to change things when a simple “no” from school administration sets you back ten steps.

And then there’s being disheartened when you hear people dismissing the work of student leaders.

Student leadership is not a reflection of your worth.

I need something to put on my resume? The desire to fill up a paper list of achievements can never be quenched — finding security in positions like this always runs dry in a couple of months.

Soon enough, the hunger to find even more takes over again and all you’re left with is endless anxiety.

As each year in student leadership passed me by, each of these reasons grew more empty. Alone, some of these desires may serve as good ways to find purpose in what we do, but they can never be our main reason.


So at the end of the day, it all comes back to God. Proverbs 19:21 gently reminds us, “Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.”

Sometimes, God’s purpose for us does not end up in a position gained. We face rejection, and it hurts, and we wonder why we worked so hard only for God to turn us away.

Sometimes, we do get elected but face rejection anyway, like stepping up to the position you’d dreamt of but facing harsh criticism when you get there, and wondering why you’re not good enough when you’d worked so hard.

It’s natural to feel disappointed. Don’t bottle it in. Let yourself feel sad, or disappointed, because God also recognises our struggles.

But remember this — student leadership is not a reflection of your worth.

Rejection drove me in the right direction

Rejection just means that right now, at this season in your life, God is gently directing you onto another path. He sees your heart for Him, your heart to serve, and desires to draw you closer to Him in His perfect way.

Because even when things felt like they were at their lowest, and I felt like I wasn’t doing a good job, God never left me behind.

If you are a leader facing rejection, rest assured that He will do the same for you. God loves you deeply, He sees your heart for leadership, and He is pleased.

He doesn’t see you as a failure. He doesn’t see you as someone who isn’t good enough. He sees you as His child whom He loves dearly, and when we learn to surrender ourselves to Him, that pleases Him.

Your worth is unchanged, always valued and fixed permanently in the eyes of God.

Over the years, I’ve realised that the only way we can truly serve is to humble ourselves before God.

As Jesus served us in the most sacrificial and loving way, we can look to Him as we humble our hearts and ask God to make our desires His desires — a desire to serve Him and His people.

If it’s God’s will, this service may come in the form of student leadership. To God, student leadership is one way for you to grow and know Him better.

When you remember that you are here to serve God and walk the path He has laid out for you, you will be washed over with a sense of peace, knowing that you are exactly where God wants you to be.

All roles in the kingdom of God are equally valuable.

Isaiah 41:13 tells us, “For I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, do not fear; I will help you.”

All roles in the kingdom of God are equally valuable. Student leader or otherwise, the thing that’s important to our Heavenly Father is a sincere heart that loves and serves Him and His people.

God values you deeply. Take your eyes off the things of the world, like humanly validation and achievement and fix your eyes upon our Father and follow His word.

It will take time, but God will bring you there. And as we maintain a close relationship with Him in prayer, walking with Him hand-in-hand through His perfect path, we can know one thing.

No matter what leadership positions we take, we are all God’s beloved children. And that really is enough.


  1. What does leadership mean to you?
  2. Look at Jesus in the gospels. How did He redefine leadership?
  3. Consider the areas of your influence. This week, what is one way you can serve those whom you are leading?