This weekend was all about cleaning my house. It started with the storage room, moved into the furnace room, and ended in the basement office where a lot of my Kalamazoo/Michigan Jaycee memories were strewn all around. It’s funny how much time has passed since I looked at the convention programs from 2011, the pictures from my year as #87.

But what really hit was all the notes from so many people. Even more than that, the wisdom in those notes just simply can’t be measured. Take, for example, a composition I kept from my dear friend Heather Harris. It’s strange to say “Dear friend” because I haven’t talked to her since well before COVID hit and it’s been even longer since I’ve actually laid eyes on her. But just reading a letter she shared with me put her voice smack dab in the middle of my head and, like with any good ear worm, it’s something that I have to share.

So please join me in celebrating Heather’s gift of words:

For those who don’t know, I am a lover of words. I am extremely passionate about words and language. over the years, I have dabbled in five different languages, I was once dubbed Regina Latina (Queen of Latin), and I frequently correct my speech if I have said something that breaks a grammatical rule. Although I don’t expect everyone to share my love of words, having a strong grasp of your native tongue can help you in your personal and professional life.

I want to challenge you to look at how you use your words. It takes practice, but it gets easier. Doing this allows you to learn if you repeat a word or phrase often, and helps you evaluate how clearly you convey your ideas.

Let me show you what I mean. We’ll start by examining a familiar phrase: WE BUILD LEADERS.

It’s a noun, a verb and direct object. it’s just three words, but those three word tell you a lot about the Michigan Jaycees. Part of its power is its brevity. Look a little closer.

Examine the subject.

WE – You are not alone. Not only is your chapter with you, the entire State Board, and all other Michigan Jaycees are with you. It indicates a shared task. Together, WE are going to accomplish something.

On to the next word.

BUILD – What a great word choice. It’s not make or create. Building conjures up images of men in hard hats. power tools. It’s a strong word because it’s an action. And when you think of building something, we aren’t talking about birdhouses in woodshop here. In this sentence, in this context, we’re talk about something on a larger scale. We’re talking about the Eiffel Tower, the Sphinx, the Statue of Liberty. It’s a task that requires more than one person. What we’re building isn’t created overnight. It takes work. It takes commitment. It’s a task that takes time.


We build what? The direct object, of course: leaders.

So what is a leader? The dictionary helpfully describes a leader as: someone who leads. So we have to go to the root word, “lead”: to go before or with to show the way; conduct or escort. A leader is someone willing to take charge, to take control, to take responsibility. All of those things and more. Some of you might be thinking I’m not a leader. But have you ever run a project? Have you ever sat on a committee? Did you learn something from your experience?

The phrase WE BUILD LEADERS has take a broad range of possibilities and folded it into a succinct message. Get used to it, because it’s a message we are going to hear frequently.

I could probably go on a little more, exploring even that small of a sentence. But I want to leave you with the aforementioned challenge to examine your own words – verbal and non – and offer a tip to help improve your writing.

In our professional and even personal lives, we can be called upon to write something without a lot of time. I’ll share some other tips in the future, but for now …

Remember way back to your grade school days. If your teachers taught you the same thing they taught me, it’s that one sentence should have one idea. Keep the sentence structure simple, for your sake and the sake of the reader.

Commas are great, but please don’t abuse them. Take a lesson from the statement WE BUILD LEADERS.


Heather Harris, 2011 – Unknown composition given to Dave Worthams

I’m looking forward to seeing my friend Heather soon so I can tell her, one more time, Thank you, Ms. Potts.

Me and Heather Harris – JCI Michigan February 2021 Convention (That’s what they were called back then)