Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi is not a stranger to the concept of leadership.
As she addressed the attendees of the National Society of Leadership and Success (NSLS) Induction Ceremony Sunday night in Marshall Student Center Ballroom, Bondi offered guidance to club members, reflecting on many of her own experiences in Florida politics.
“What is leadership?” she asked. “Can you hold it? Can you define it? Can you lay claim to it? Is it a trait or a learned response?”
While the concept is one that is intangible, Bondi recalled many of her tangible experiences as a leader.
“Leadership comes from standing up for others who can’t, and speaking out when others won’t,” she said.
Such was the case, she said, when she fought against prescription drug abuse and found herself engaged in a resulting struggle with pharmaceutical lobbying groups.
Bondi, who has spearheaded a statewide taskforce on prescription drug abuse that has suggested policies be implemented by the state, said sometimes leadership means being fearless in order to seek results.
“Leadership also means being unafraid of being judged today for what matters tomorrow,” she said. “Popularity, let me tell you, that is fleeting but purpose and principle will weather the test of time.”
At the start of her crackdown on pill mills and drug abuse, Florida was home to 98 of the top 100 oxycodone distributers, which she said resulted in an estimated seven Floridians dying each day.
Bondi said she personally reminded lawmakers of this statistic incessantly until action was taken.
“Leadership comes by leading by example,” she said.
Her conviction unified Florida’s House, Senate and governor, Bondi said.
“It’s a belief in yourself that you pass onto others,” she said. “That’s invested in others and elevates other people to do and be their very, very best.”
But people do not always rally around great leaders, she said.
She pointed to the resistance USF researchers faced in the court system when seeking a permit to exhume bodies at the Dozier School for Boys, a reform school that has come to be known for the abuse, torture and unceremonious burials of the young men who attended, as a part of their research.
“You know many people said to USF and me ‘Let the past be the past’?” she said. “But that wasn’t good enough.”
Bondi credited the persistence of USF President Judy Genshaft and herself for acquiring the authority to give the dead a proper burial.
“Leadership comes from doing the right thing, no matter how difficult, no matter what the consequence, and no matter how many people will follow you,” she said.
Nonetheless, Bondi said cooperation with peers is essential to a good leader. There is no better place to establish lifelong networks than at a university, she said.
“Your paths are always going to cross,” she said. “Careers are going to be launched here. Never burn bridges.”
NSLS USF chapter president Krystyn Ramdial, a senior majoring in business and psychology, said the organization established a network of leaders who play an active part in the community.
“We help build leaders who make a better world,” she said.
Members inducted on Sunday first spent a semester attending social events with local leaders, learning resume building and adopting leadership roles for volunteer work, such as Relay for Life and the Special Olympics Florida.
NSLS inductee Stephanie Gato, a freshman majoring in marine biology, said the group gave her the confidence needed to lead the chocolatier USF club as vice president.
“We can’t all be followers. There needs to be someone there to take charge,” she said. “Otherwise nothing would get done, and no one would know what to do – that’s what a leader is there for.”