Vice President for Student Affairs Michael L. Jackson spoke of his focus on leadership, love and faith as part of the What Matters to Me and Why lectures series on Wednesday.
Jackson discussed his belief that each event in our lives is “magical, mystical and part of a divine plan” that shapes our personalities.
For Jackson, one of these “magical” events was his experience as the first black student to attend Stevenson School in Pebble Beach, Calif. When the boarding school began looking to integrate in the 1960s, a family friend offered Jackson the chance to enroll.
Jackson continued to make waves after his enrollment as well.
As a 15-year-old, Jackson wrote a letter to the student body and faculty objecting to a tradition called “Slave Day,” where seniors could buy younger students for the day. Soon after, the school discontinued the activity.
He said this was the first moment he realized the impact he could have on others.
“I began to get this image of myself as the hub in the middle of a wheel,” Jackson said. “I would be helping people in all kinds of different ways and they would come in and out of my life and I would be in and out of their lives, but I would be a connection point for folks.”
Jackson also spoke of his undergraduate years at Stanford, where he said he had to learn to “know himself.”
He described one conflict he had with the Black Student Union — instead of hanging out only with other black students in the club, Jackson said he became friends with people of all backgrounds.
“I knew I had to be my own person and develop relationships that were important to me, regardless of race, ethnicity or gender,” Jackson said.
These experiences in his young adult life propelled Jackson into focusing on what he calls “spiritual leadership.”
Jackson said once he began to understand the impact he could have on other people, he learned to focus on maintaining mental clarity and humility to get things done. Jackson cited the 13 years he spent working to build the Ronald Tutor Campus Center as an example of this leadership style.
“We could have never done that as a collective if we put our egos in front and made it about us,” Jackson said. “We were focused on the higher result. We tried to have sharp elbows to ensure that we fulfilled our vision for what that center could become.”
Finally, Jackson spoke of love as the driving force behind all his work.
“Let’s talk about love — I can’t live without it. I love each of you, I love my wife, I love my family,” Jackson said. “I think part of God’s plan is that this wonderful word called love gets actualized in the way we are a community for one another.”
Though he acknowledged love can come in many different forms, Jackson said he believes trying to find love in everything is the thread connecting every piece of his life.
“How I go about spreading this love is the work I do in this role as a Vice President for Student Affairs at USC,” Jackson said. “I work with the goal of providing environments that allow others to thrive and fulfill their dreams and their hopes so they can go out and spread peace and love.”
As vice president for student affairs, Jackson’s department oversees the Office of Student Publications, which includes the Daily Trojan.