An icon among us: Sarah Summers interviews Chuck Young
During a recent interview with former UCLA Chancellor Dr. Charles E. Young, I was struck by the irony of the fact that the biggest celebrity sighting of my last two years was in the end-of-the-hall counseling office of Sonoma Valley High School, not in or around the UCLA campus where I spend my academic year.Charles Young is an icon among UCLA undergrads, grad students and faculty alike; everyone recognizes his name. On my way to class, I walk past the Charles E. Young Research Library. I run down Charles E. Young Drive to my apartment and I perform in the Charles E. Young Grand Salon with my a cappella group. Charles E. Young is regarded as one of the most influential leaders since UCLA’s founding date nearly a century ago, if not in the whole of public university education in America. Now a resident of Sonoma Valley, Dr. Young attributes successful leadership to strong mentors, the ability to recognize opportunities, and above all else, doing what one loves.Dr. Young describes his early student career as “mediocre” prior to his military service during the Korean War. However, he became inspired in graduate school and decided to become university chancellor after completing his Ph.D. in political science and doing dissertation work as an American Political Science Association Congressional Fellow. He recalls, “Everything seemed to fall into place after that.”To Dr. Young, being a leader is largely about being able to make choices. He remarks, “You have to take the data at hand – and always sooner than you would like – you have to make clear, firm, and critical decisions that you stick with.” Dr. Young believes that strong leadership is always about people: doing things for people, with people, and surrounding yourself with people you like and trust to promote collaborative efforts. Dr. Young remarks, “Universities are not run like the military. You have to involve people and bring them together. Listen to them.”Dr. Young insists, “If you are going to accomplish anything of significance in a community, it needs to happen in the public schools.” He gives credit to the SVHS College and Career Center for its increasing commitment to finding individual paths to match student interests. “This country has such a variety of educational opportunities: rural, urban, liberal arts, large university” the College and Career Center at SVHS is an amazing service available to all students, they simply need to show up and put it to use. Students can take initiative and work to discover what they love to do early and often.Life in a campus community such as Sonoma Valley High School is enriched when smaller communities of people are brought together through common passions. Inside these smaller communities – clubs, teams, community service programs, student government – students can discover or develop new skills and talents that enhance their educational experience as well as opportunities to lead. Dr. Young says, “Without leadership opportunities, you are not getting the education that you need.”I asked Dr. Young how students at Sonoma Valley High School can pursue leadership opportunities and become engaged in the local community. He said students need to take advantage of infrastructure that exists through teachers, clubs, electives. Tthe College and Career Center, and non-school activities can help students find what they want to do. “If you’re not doing what you like to do,” he says, “you won’t do a good job. It’s about finding what you love and then making a contribution.”• • •Sarah Summers graduated from Sonoma Valley High School in 2012. She is currently a junior at UCLA.