Preparing to Lead: 2023 Student Leadership Retreat

The Student Leadership Retreat has been a Vanguard University tradition for decades, a part of the development of students who pursue knowledge, cultivate their character, and deepen their faith while at VU.  
 
For the first time, this year’s retreat was held on Santa Catalina Island at the Campus by the Sea. Ninety student participants traveled to Gallagher’s Cove on the island for the three-and-a-half-day retreat that began on August 14. 

“The new location really spoke for itself once we stepped off the boat and onto the dock at Campus by the Sea,” said Jess Van Winkle, assistant director of student development and success. “It is breathtaking and provides the space and atmosphere to retreat away together. The students enjoyed every inch of the property and took full advantage of the opportunities, engaging together in several fun things. All of this and more added to the desire for this to be an intentional retreat where we grow in our relationships with God, each other, and ourselves.” 

The retreat combined devotional time, worship sessions, breakout sessions, and group meetings led by Patricia Burton, PsyD, assistant professor of psychology, that revolved around an exercise known as “The Tree of Life.”  
 
Dr. Burton chose “The Tree of Life” exercise because it is strengths-based and allows students to retell their stories in a positive light. “My focus was to select an approach that felt safe and would empower students to reclaim their stories and would bring growth along with emotional and spiritual strength,” said Burton.  
 
According to Burton, “The Tree of Life” originated in Zimbabwe, and it was initially created by psychologist Ncazelo Ncube-Milo in partnership with David Denborough as a storytelling approach. “Different parts of the tree are used as metaphors to represent different aspects of our lives. The tree and all its parts will eventually create a storyline,” said Burton. “This narrative practice helps strengthen the individual’s relationship with their own history, culture, and significant people in their lives, in a positive way.” 

“This year’s leadership retreat helped me to grow not just spiritually, but relationally as well. I bonded with people I am now proud to be able to call my friends!” said Nolan Torres, Kinesiology/Pre-Health Professions major. “We shared moments of sadness, heartache, and grief. But we also learned that there is always laughter, love, and positivity in our lives and that there is light at the end of the tunnel.”  

“Vanguard is intentional in allowing students to discover their leadership skills. Leadership development strengthens the student’s communication, collaboration, resilience, and adaptability. These traits help our students become highly employable after college.” 

Vanguard University Director of Athletics Jeff Bussell

The retreat concluded with a worship and commissioning service. During the evening, faculty and staff supervisors prayed over the students, anointed them with oil, and commissioned them as campus leaders. Students also used the time to pray over and minister to one other. 

“The worship and commissioning service was my highlight of the retreat,” said Burton. “We were surrounded by a ‘Vanguard Forest,’ comprised of each student’s tree drawings that were placed on the walls. It was heartwarming to see students praying for each other and sharing their notes of encouragement. The room was filled with so much love–students’ faces were glowing with joy and tears of appreciation. Students were touched by the positive and thoughtful messages they received from other students.” 

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