Mario Damasceno, a junior in the Stillman School of Business, recently represented Seton Hall University at the McDonald Cadet Leadership Conference. Now in its sixth year, the conference takes place on the grounds of the United States Military Academy at West Point, and is for top undergraduate student leaders from around the globe.
In attendance this year were 73 students who represented 21 U.S. universities and 16 countries. Along with Damasceno, these students participated in team-based, experiential and analytical exercises to bolster their leadership skills, foster critical thinking and collaboration, and to develop potential strategies for addressing pressing global issues.
Damasceno, who is majoring in information technology management and pursuing a certificate in supply chain management, is also a member of the Stillman Schools' top-ranked leadership development program in The Gerald P. Buccino '63 Center for Leadership Development.
Below, Damasceno shares a few thoughts on the conference and his key takeaways.
Why did you apply Cadet Leadership Conference?
I applied to the conference for a few reasons:
- I heard the stories of the Stillman School students who had attended in previous years (Kyle Packnick, Francis Ahmed and Brooks Mencke), and heard nothing but praise for the conference. Every word they spoke about it was in high regard – the people they met, the speakers, the topics and the knowledge gained.
- The opportunity to visit the West Point Military Academy, stay on campus, learn about the history, experience the life of a cadet and the culture of the university – all while being surrounded by the beauty of upstate New York.
- I knew that if I wanted to gain a global perspective as a leader in my community, the best way to develop that is by being exposed to, and listening to the viewpoints of students from around the world.
What were this year's focus areas, as they related to the Conference theme of "Making Ripples?"
This year's focus areas were Character, Ideas and Teams. Each focus area had a corresponding panel discussion carried out by some of the nations’ top leaders, ranging from the former White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough and Four Star General Lloyd Austin, to Goldman Sachs Partner Lisa Shalett and Harvard Medical School Dean Dr. Nancy Oriol, and many more.
Panelists touched on key areas such as the power of inquiry, practical wisdom, humility, risk, diversity and empathy. Discussions also stressed how we can make small ripples that will eventually create large waves across our community, our country and our world.
Describe the most unforgettable experience at the conference.
The one experience that I will never forget was my 5 a.m. wake-up to do the Cadet IOTC Obstacle Course, which was designed by WW2 veterans after returning from the front lines. The veterans were asked to design the course based on what they used most often during their time on the front lines, and the IOTC was the result. The course consists of crawls, tire steps, ledge climb, balance beams, monkey bars, wall jump, rope climb, and a two and a half lap run with a medicine ball. Every cadet at West Point MUST past the IOTC in order to graduate. A passing grade for a male is below 3 minutes, 30 seconds. I completed the course in 4 minutes, 26 seconds, which means I would have failed and would have to re-take it every semester until I passed. Although a daunting task at first, I will never forget the difficulty of the test and the motivation I felt when trying to complete it.
What were your top three takeaways from the Conference?
This is perhaps the most challenging question to answer, however, my top three takeaways were:
- "Empathy is the foundation for justice" – These were the words spoken by Associate Dean of Harvard Medical School Dr. Nancy Oriole. This statement came during the panel discussion on Ideas, where the panelists discussed the foundation of where ideas come from, the differences between good ideas applied correctly, good ideas applied negatively, the effects of implementing ideas, etc. Dr. Oriole discussed this one consistent observation of empathy based on her global perspective and research. This was a main takeaway for me because I am a firm believer in the power of empathy and its potential to positively influence society.
- "The key to manage people is to make sure they know that you care about them. The key to leadership is to actually care about them" – This quote was given by former Chief of Staff Mr. Denis McDonough during the final keynote speech of the conference. Mr. McDonough discussed his experience during his tenure in the White House. My takeaway from this was the major difference between "acting" and "being authentic." Especially in today's tech dominated world, it is so easy to "act" one way now, and “act” another way later. Being an authentic leader is more valuable now than ever before and this quote truly spoke to me in that way.
- Finally, a quote directly from the Cadet Prayer said at the US Military Academy, which states, "Make us choose the harder right instead of the easier wrong, and never to be content with a half-truth when the whole can be won." The Cadet Prayer is engrained within the cadets of the academy – it is not only just said, but lived out on a daily basis. This culture that fosters truth – a strict commitment to doing the right thing, even when it may be exceedingly difficult, was the last major takeaway. If this were taught in schools around the world, published in pop-culture magazines, and played on reality television shows, the state of our society would be much different.
Who were the senior fellows that you were able to work with personally?
I was blessed to have been paired up with senior fellow Bob McDonald, founder of MCLC, the former Secretary of the VA under Barack Obama, and retired Chairman, President, and CEO of the Procter & Gamble Company. I was able to establish a very close relationship with Secretary McDonald, and learned significantly from his teachings during our breakout sessions. I posed quite a few questions, and sometimes even challenged some of his remarks. However, this led us into very insightful dialogue about the world, the challenges that it faces, and we brainstormed possible solutions to major societal issues.
Secretary McDonald articulated his experiences as VA Secretary, leading us into discussing the importance of building values-based organizations. Furthermore, cultural competency became a major topic of discussion. We delved deep into the importance of building diverse teams, instilling empathy across entire organizations, and the effects of those two key principles to improve social-cultural issues.
Within the short three- day timeframe of the Conference, I was able to compile a lifetime worth of new knowledge and new relationships.
I would like to give a special thanks to Provost Karen Boroff, Professor James Modlin (Department of Management) and Director Michael Reuter (The Gerald P. Buccino '63 Center for Leadership Development), for granting me this opportunity. I will surely treasure and reminisce about this unique experience for the rest of my life.