Leadership Retreat Creates Life-Long Friendships

‘One of the best weekends of my college career.’

Participants in the 2020 Leadership U Retreat.

A Personal Reflection by EMMA GABBERT, CSU Public Relations Assistant


This past weekend, I participated in the 2020 Leadership U Retreat. On the afternoon of Friday, Feb. 7, I and 30 other potential student leaders rode a coach bus to Camp Omega in Waterville, Minnesota.

Before the retreat began, we had an informational meeting where I met all the retreaters. But none of us knew what the weekend had in store.

With an agenda with bonfires, snow tubing and leadership workshops, I expected something similar to my past summer camp experiences through Girl Scouts or the YMCA.

What I didn’t expect was the creation of 30 new friendships that will last me through college and beyond.

Going into the retreat, I knew around five people. Being the social butterfly I am, I expected to make a couple more friends throughout the weekend.

I ended up creating a unique friendship with every single person on the trip.

Learning Exemplary Leadership

I have been to a lot of leadership workshops and conferences. Some of these were also through Leadership U, the sponsor of this Leadership Retreat.

Over the three-day weekend, we had five workshops presented by community, faculty and student leaders across the Minnesota State University, Mankato campus.

Following Kouze and Posner’s The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership, every session focused on a different topic. Those being:

‘Tap Someone Who…’

The final workshop – and the fan-favorite of the group – Encourage the Heart was led by Garrett Meier, Student Activities graduate advisor for leadership programming.

He created an activity that empowered every single one of us while reflecting on the weekend we spent together.

Meier instructed everyone to create a circle of chairs. He then picked four people and asked them to stand outside the circle.

For the next hour, groups of four would walk outside of the circle, tapping seated individuals on the shoulders when instructed: “Tap someone who…”

Some examples included, “Tap someone who has a great smile.” “Tap someone that has a great laugh.” “Tap someone that makes you laugh.” “Tap someone you look up to” and so on.

This allowed everyone to tap people for their unique characteristics. Not everyone got tapped for everything, but everyone got tapped several times throughout the activity.

Before I went to this retreat, I thought we would do leadership retreat workshops and the activities listed. But it turns out that the best part of the retreat was the things not on the schedule.

Activities That Brought Us Together

After a bright and early breakfast at 8 a.m., we had two back-to-back leadership sessions and then ate lunch.

Following lunch, we went snow tubing. Many of the international students had never gone snow tubing before, so this was a new and exciting experience for them in particular.

Amina Jemi, right, and Emma Gabbert

With a leadership session after snow tubing, we ate dinner and proceeded to play Broomball. Put simply, Broomball is floor hockey on ice with regular shoes instead of skates.

Broomball bonding was part of the retreat weekend highlights. (Pictures provided by participating student)

For the grand finale of our weekend retreat, we wrapped up the night with several rounds of “Murder in the Dark.”

Through this game, I formed bonds with fellow retreaters that wouldn’t have happened without the hours of running through bedrooms and barracks in groups as “killers” tried to eliminate as many townspeople as possible.

Leadership and Life Lessons Learned

Although the weekend was supposed to focus on improving leadership skills as a student, my biggest take-away was the friendships I made along the way.

As the weekend came to a close, one student had the wonderful idea to write everyone’s social media on a poster board to stay connected when we went back to campus and went our separate ways.

I applied for this retreat out of sheer curiosity, and it ends up being one of the best weekends of my college career. And I can’t wait for next year. 

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