Passion for leadership: Lyon junior leads through persistence, empathy

Lyon College junior Daria Giles is not interested in staying a member of clubs. Her goal is to continue progressing in any organization she joins. 

“I’m not going to be part of something if I’m not passionate about it.”

As evidenced by her many leadership positions in the Lyon community, Giles has many passions. 

In addition to being an Honors Fellow and a double major in music and secondary education, she is the president of both the Honor Council and Spectra Alliance, the section leader of the woodwinds in band and a student mentor with Dr. Barry Gehm. 

She has worked as an academic and residential mentor for the APPLE (Accelerated Program of Personalized Learning and Enrichment) Project Upward Bound program the past two years and tutored the clarinet section at Batesville High School.

Giles, of Marion, had been in several clubs in high school, so balancing multiple responsibilities was not new for her when she came to Lyon. She would show up at school at 7:15 a.m. and would stay until 8 p.m. for marching band practice.

“I’m not the oldest in my family, but I was the oldest child in my household,” she said. “I was expected to help take care of my brother and all those things.”

Giles continued, “I feel like if I wasn’t a natural born leader then I developed into one early and sought out those roles at school.”

By the time she started her freshman year at Lyon, she was “revving to go already.” She talked to the band director about being a section leader and got her position as a residential mentor for APPLE, preparing high school students from disadvantaged backgrounds to succeed in college.

“I loved watching them grow over the summer,” Giles said. “My students still message me every once in a while.”

APPLE showed her how to lead others through empathy.

“I think being human is the best way to reach students. They are not receptive when you act better than them because you’re not.”

She continued, “They want someone they can relate to and will treat them with the amount of respect they deserve.”

As a sophomore, Giles took on new leadership roles and learned the importance of speaking out and relying on others.

She became the vice president of Spectra Alliance, a student organization focused on serving the needs of Lyon’s LGBTQ+ community and its allies. As a bisexual woman, she was passionate about fulfilling Spectra’s mission but felt the organization was not doing as well as it could.

“Things weren’t getting done, and I decided I needed to get it done,” she said. 

She stepped up and became president. Since then, the organization has sponsored more events, including a series of sex education talks led by faculty and a vigil for Transgender Day of Remembrance in 2019.

“For the vigil, we lit paper lanterns and put them in the lake while I read off the names of all the trans people who had been murdered over the course of 2019,” Giles said.

She continued, “The event went very well. It was very emotional, but it was necessary. I want to do more things like that with Spectra.”

Fortunately, she does not have to manage all of these organizations and events on her own.

When Giles had band commitments and a Spectra meeting on the same night, she wrote down what she wanted the vice president, Timmy Tignor, to go over for Spectra and left the meeting in his hands.

“As a leader, you still have to rely on the people you lead,” she said. “That means making sure you have a good team under you.”

Giles continued, “I want my team members to take on their part of the work, know what they’re doing and be respectful.”

She is also grateful to have mentors like Director of Bands Dr. Frederick Brown helping her figure out her path in life.

“I’m trying to be a band director, and [Brown] will basically quiz me on what I would do if we had a certain issue in band.”

Giles said they discuss options for her future, such as graduate school and Teach for America, and the importance of her getting in front of an ensemble to prepare for a career as a band director.

“He’s been linking me to scholarships specifically for women in music education and also Black people in music education,” Giles said, “because he knows people like me are quite niche in the music education field.”

Brown said one of Giles’ best leadership qualities is her willingness to help wherever she can make a positive contribution.

“Whether it is helping other students with learning music and drill, volunteering at high school events or providing invaluable insight for the Lyon College band program, Daria is a fierce and compassionate critical thinker, selflessly giving to others,” he said.

Giles encourages other Lyon students to “just go for it” if they are considering applying for a leadership position.

“If you don’t get it the first time, then that means you have more time to keep working toward that goal. There are always people who can help you or that you can reach out to on campus.”

Giles concluded, “There’s nothing stopping you from asking for feedback or help. It’s a matter of communication and trying again and again.”