Leadership Day Speaker Urges Students to Overcome Challenges
Leadership Day Speaker Urges Students to Overcome Challenges

by Jackie Hennessey
Communications and Public Affairs Writer/Editor


As Shane Michael Taylor (aka Michael Matzkevich ’05, ’06) arrived on campus and settled into his resident hall his first year on campus, he worried: what would people say as he rolled down the hall in his wheelchair? Would he make friends? Would they understand what he had to say? Could he find a place for himself here?

Then, with a knock on the door, in walked Marquis Bell ’08, a resident assistant, who greeted him with a loud and friendly “Wasssuuuup?” Bell stayed a while, talking and cracking jokes, and Taylor’s worries started to fade.

Shane Michael Taylor (aka Michael Matzkevich ’05, ’06) and Marquis Bell '08 returned to UNH for Leadership Day.

UNH, he thought, was a place where he could be who he was – a guy who had cerebral palsy and little use of his arms and legs, who typed with his nose—as he described, “like a pecking chicken”—and a guy with big dreams.

Last week, Taylor, a country music artist, motivational speaker and manager and chief engineer of the music production company Platinum Horse Productions, returned to campus to give the keynote address at Leadership Day 2014. More than 185 student leaders turned out.

He shared insights into why overcoming challenges can make a person a more empathetic, inclusive and galvanizing leader. His personal assistant, Zachary Boetcher, spoke on his behalf. Taylor encouraged each person in the room to do what Marquis Bell did that very first day – reach out and be the kind of positive person “who nourishes others and unleashes the hero in you and in them.”

He urged students to find healthy ways to push aside their own negative thoughts when they are trying to achieve a goal. He said he has had to work hard to banish “negative self-talk” and to replace doubts with thoughts such as, “I will be able to do this.”

“Rejection turns me on,” Taylor said, to big laughs and hearty applause from the audience. He urged students to use the rejections they experience in life to forge a new path forward and to help others do the same. “How do you become a more resilient student and teach yourself to lead?” he asked. “Great leaders lead others through adversity.”

Boetcher said it was “an honor and a privilege to be his voice. Watching him type every word of his presentation, using his nose – everything about him is inspiring.”

Meghan Makowski ’14, an English major and editor-in-chief of the Chariot yearbook, said she took a great deal from his address. “I really liked his comment that there is always something better down the road,” she said. “That’s helpful to consider at any time in your life, in college, at home or somewhere in the future.”

Diana Gonzalez ’14, a pre-med major, found Taylor’s presentation powerful and personal. “He faces challenges every day and he is making it in the world, doing something he loves,” she said. He inspired her to “be more positive and to help others find the positive in themselves.”

Taylor said he was thrilled to have the chance to share his story with students at his alma mater. “There are no words to express what it means to come back and speak at the very place that I credit for being where I am today,” he said.

Shelissa Newball, assistant director of student activities, who organized the event, said she chose the theme “Difficulties strengthen the mind as labor does the body” because being a leader means being able to think around challenges. “People who can get past adversity are very valuable to employers,” she said.

The event was part of the University’s Take Charge program, which provides leadership training opportunities for students, including monthly workshops and a “Lunch and Learn” series. The Feb. 5 “Lunch and Learn” features James Marshall Reilly, who wrote Shake the World, It’s Not about Finding a Job; It’s about Creating a Life. Learn more>>

Newball said she wants all students, particularly those not yet in leadership roles on campus, to consider taking part. “I hope students see that leadership isn’t just being president of a club,” she said. “There are innate qualities we all have that can make us leaders. Students have to discover those qualities and hone them.”

Greg Overend, director of student activities, said he was impressed to see a packed house of student leaders on a day when temperatures dipped into single digits and snow began to fall. “It says a lot about the commitment our student leaders have to this University and to their organizations,” he said.

The event, cut short because of the snowstorm, ended with a video featuring campus leaders encouraging students to take charge of their lives, their campus community and their future. “Take charge,” said Colby Thammavongsa ’14, Undergraduate Student Government Association vice president. “Make something out of nothing.”


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