commissioner’s column

Nancy Lu
Mt. Lebanon Junior Commissioner Nancy Lu. /Photo: Judy Macoskey

Nancy Lu, who graduated from Mt. Lebanon High School in June, was a 2015-2016 Mt. Lebanon Junior Commissioner. She spent the past summer as a research intern at Magee Womens Research Institute. This fall, she enters Yale University, where plans to double-major in English and biochemistry. Thanks to Commissioner Dave Brumfield for giving up his turn to speak out to give Nancy a chance. Here, she reflects on her semester of public service.

Junior commissioners are high schoolers given a unique opportunity to engage directly with the commission by voicing student opinions and concerns at the twice-monthly commission meetings. Not only do junior commissioners learn about how local government operates, but they also are expected to engage their peers in discussions about community issues. In honor of the selection of the two new junior commissioners as well as my increasing nostalgia for all things Lebo as I prepare for college, here are the five most important things I learned from my own experience as junior commissioner.

Leadership isn’t what you see on TV. I have many things to be thankful for, one of which is that our community leaders are nothing like some of the candidates we saw during the presidential primaries. The word “politics” is now intimately connected with pointing fingers, embarrassing remarks, and never-ending lies. In the midst of this chaos, solving issues sometimes seemed to be the last agenda item. I am grateful that I was able to witness the quiet, orderly, fact-based discussions that occurred in the discussion sessions that precede Mt. Lebanon Commission meetings. Our community leaders understand that blame is the antithesis of a solution—and solutions are what we all want.

Disagreement is constructive. When it doesn’t involve rudeness, chair-throwing, or tears, disagreement is awesome. When backed with statistics, disagreement leads to a concoction of new and improved ideas. There was nothing I delighted more in than a resident who used up every last second of his 5-minute public comment time at the commission meeting to quote statistics, draw inferences, and state an opinion forcefully and intelligently. Let’s agree to disagree!

Volunteering is good for the soul. Have you ever driven past the Spanish-style house at the corner of Washington Road and Lebanon Avenue and wondered who lives there? (Answer: No one; it’s the headquarters of the Historical Society of Mount Lebanon). Have you ever wondered what goes on in the evening at the municipal building on Washington Road? (Answer: Advisory board meetings, commission meetings, and a whole lot more!) One of the most rewarding aspects of being junior commissioner was working with our environmental sustainability board and learning about the historical society. These experiences not only broadened my views but also allowed me to forge valuable connections and admire what others have spent years dedicating their lives to.

Community issues transcend personal ones. Picture this: it’s 9 pm in the commission chamber, and the stifled yawns betray the fact that people are exhausted. But not a single person wants to go home yet. I saw true leadership when the leaders embraced those late nights. I saw true leadership when the leaders eagerly answered the community’s needs. And I saw true leadership when they sacrificed small desires in face of larger issues. I can only hope to be such a leader in the future.

Immerse yourself. The junior commissioner position is not a voting position—I was not seated at the discussion table. But it is a great opportunity to forge connections, be inspired by our community leaders, share a young perspective on the community and maybe even discover a new career path. I urge future junior commissioners to explore and not squander this precious opportunity. Attend an advisory board meeting and spare some time to volunteer. Talk to the commissioners. Above all, do not let this turn into a checkbox on your resume or another extracurricular activity. You will get out what you put in. And you might get much more than you bargained for.