© Guardian photo by Heather Taweel
Rick Hillier stands amongst students as they cheer to the Strathcona Band version of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody. Hillier spoke to students as part of the Canadian Leadership Conference held in Montague.
MONTAGUE — Inspire others, draw inspiration from those around you, be optimistic and stay strong.
These were the words of wisdom retired General Rick Hillier shared with more than 1,000 students from across Canada Thursday in Montague.
The students are in Prince Edward Island for an annual leadership conference.
Hillier spoke to them for more than an hour about his own experiences leading Canada’s Armed Forces during a difficult time in the country’s military history.
He told the students of the ways in which he tried to boost the morale of the troops, who were fighting the combat mission in Afghanistan. He detailed how he was instrumental in bringing the Stanley Cup and Tim Hortons to Afghanistan.
He also told them of how he stood his ground against political pressure from the prime minister’s office when it tried to put a kibosh on publicizing convoys for fallen soldiers on the Highway of Heroes, fearing a political backlash against the Afghan mission.
But he also told the stories of several soldiers he has met over the years — one whose feet were blown off by a roadside bomb who has since climbed to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro; another who was injured while driving a tank who was so thankful and praising of the treatment he received while in recovery, his wife joined the military.
Each story illustrated his points of advice about how these men, ordinary soldiers, exhibited true leadership.
The students were more than responsive to his message.
They laughed when he told jokes.
They cheered when he talked about his pride in Canada and the troops.
“I loved it. It makes me feel like I want to be a better person,” said Rebecca Grudeski from Alberta.
“The way he told about his life — helping other people and working as hard as he could to get to where he did, it’s inspirational. It makes me want to work harder to get to where I want to go.”
James Lorenzen from Wadena, Saskatchewan, also said he was inspired by Hillier’s speech.
“Hearing all the stories about the men in combat and the stuff they’ve done — bravery in the face of crazy odds — amazing.”
Hillier said he hopes the students will go back to their homes and schools knowing each and every one of them can be great leaders.
“If they can get the focus on people right to inspire them and draw inspiration from them, that will set them up for success,” he said.
“If they can get that focus right as leaders, they’re going to be OK for the rest of their lives.”