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“Becoming a servant-leader begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve… Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. That person is sharply different from one who is a leader first.”

That quote, by Robert Greenleaf, the founder of the servant leadership movement, perfectly describes students in Eastern Kentucky University’s College of Justice and Safety, said recent graduate Kayla Griffin.

After spending just 2 ½ years at EKU, Griffin graduated magna cum laude with a degree in Homeland Security. She was selected to represent her peers as the College of Justice and Safety’s student speaker at the Fall 2019 commencement ceremony Dec. 13.

True to her philosophy of putting others first, she steered away from cliches about personal achievement in her address, opting instead to survey her classmates to learn their thoughts on what defines servant leadership. Their answers included “putting others' needs before ours, serving others, serving others with the highest level of integrity, and showing great compassion and perseverance.”

“No matter what our major is within the college, all these answers embody us as students and future professionals,” she said. “Whether we go on to serve our country as a law enforcement officer, an emergency manager, a paramedic, a firefighter, a safety professional or a social justice advocate/caseworker, we are going into the workforce prepared to serve and be servant leaders.”

EKU’s nationally recognized Homeland Security Program brought Griffin to EKU from her home in Seymour, Indiana, and she has taken the initiative to succeed beyond excelling in the classroom. She became an active member of the Student Alumni Ambassadors, an organization that works with the university president, officials, alumni and fellow students hosting events such as Homecoming, the Alumni Awards Banquet, sporting events, alumni class reunions and campus tours.

Griffin is also a member of the Order of the Shield and Sword, the Homeland Security honor society. The organization’s mission is to “promote critical thinking, high scholarship and professional development; to further enhance the ethical standards of the protective security professions; and to cultivate a high order of personal living.”

After graduation, Griffin plans to go into local or federal law enforcement. Whatever path she chooses, her instructors and peers are confident she will succeed, said Dr. Derek Paulsen, associate dean of the College of Justice and Safety, who introduced her.

“Based on her many attributes, she will undoubtedly be successful in whatever facet of homeland security she decides to conquer,” he said.

However, for Griffin, success means not only rising high in her field but making sure the community she serves rises with her.

“This idea of servant leadership is to share knowledge and power with others, put others’ needs before ours, and to help others perform and develop,” she said. “Whether it be in our communities, our agencies or companies, we must strive to lead with a servant’s heart and be the first to lend a hand to those in need.”