Every day Eastern Washington University is dedicated to helping build its students into leaders. But the commitment goes even further—EWU also works with young people before they reach an Eastern classroom.

Last Friday, EWU hosted dozens of school kids from the West Valley School District for its annual Civics Day—a day devoted to helping students from elementary school through high school answer the question, “When should I lead?”

The university hosts Civics Day each year to help teach local school kids about the important roles they play in their schools, their communities and in society.

Debra Stephens speaks to West Valley students during EWU’s annual Civics Day.

A special guest helped lead the student discussions. “I can’t think of a better way to spend my day than with all of you,” said Debra Stephens, Chief Justice of the Washington State Supreme Court.

Stephens is serving her 12th year on the Washington State Supreme Court and was newly elected chief justice by her peers earlier this year. Previously she served on the state’s Division III Court of Appeals. The West Valley High School graduate is the is the first woman from Eastern Washington to serve on the Washington State Supreme Court. She has been taking part in the EWU Civics Day for more than a decade.

“Leadership really isn’t uniquely about having a title in front of your name,” Stephens told the group in her speech. “Today we’ll think about other ways that leadership shows itself.”

During workshops, Stephens helped students identify the ways they can become leaders and the importance of even the smallest actions. She encouraged the students to speak the truth and to be willing to do things that might take them out of their comfort zone. And most importantly, she advised, remember that there is no age at which leadership kicks in.

“Some people say to young people, ‘You are the future of the world,’” Said Stephens. “I reject that. You are the world now. We’re not just waiting for you to grow up so you can be the world. You are in charge now. You have leadership now. You have a lot to bring. Everything depends on you embracing that and bringing your best self forward.”

After lunch—with many students clearly feeling energized to lead in their own individual way—it was time to unwind. No trip to Eastern Washington University would be complete without an afternoon playing on Roos Field with Swoop!