Tailored for Leadership
A tailored suit, an affinity for skinny ties and a drive to help students are just a few of the defining characteristics of LSU's Student Leader of the Year, John Parker Ford.
LSU’s Department of Campus Life presents the Student Leader of the Year award to a junior or senior who has made a significant contribution to the quality of life at LSU during the academic year. The student selected for this award has demonstrated his commitment to LSU by making a significant improvement in one or more areas of campus life, such as academics, athletics, Greek life, student governance, residential life, student involvement, wellness, diversity, service, student activities or recreational sports.
Enter this year’s winner, John Parker Ford. Note the inclusion of his middle name. John Parker prefers to be called by his first and middle name, and not without reason.
“Every time I would introduce myself to someone over 40, they would tell me I have the same name as this famous film director,” joked Ford. “I also found out people liked the name Parker.”
Ford, a mass communication senior with a concentration in public relations from Alexandria, La., has held several leadership positions on campus. He currently serves as a Manship Ambassador, where he works to promote the Manship School of Mass Communication; public relations director in LSU’s Public Relations Student Society of America; vice president of Flagship Advocates, which is an LSU group that meets with legislators to promote LSU-friendly legislation; and chief communications officer for Educate LA.
Most of Ford’s involvement has been with Student Government, where he served as an executive aide under former President Stuart Watkins and as executive assistant to former President J Hudson. Ford now serves as chief of staff for President Cody Wells.
It was Hudson who nominated Ford for the Student Leader of the Year award, saying “John has a very great kind of leadership, one from respect … he is not the president or the speaker of Student Government; he doesn’t have the most glamorous position. He does the best he can to motivate others to better student life on this campus while no one is watching.”
It’s much easier to get others to discuss Ford than actually getting him to explain himself. He has a level of modesty that’s hard to cut through.
He does say that rather than crave the limelight, he enjoys working discreetly. Ford believes he is more able to focus his attention and accomplish tasks.
“When you are at the top of an organization, you have to take time out to do symbolic things,” said Ford. “While those things are important, I prefer to be behind the scenes where you are constantly working. You have your issue and you devote all your time to it.”
Ford says his leadership style is inclusive. He enjoys hearing others’ opinions, working together to get more for students.
“I like getting a group together and brainstorming ideas,” said Ford. “Four or five minds are better than one, but you have to make sure they are focused.”
Ironically Ford wasn’t involved in high school, but by the end of his freshman year at LSU he was looking for something to fill his time.
“Getting involved allowed me to meet so many people,” said Ford. “There are so many great opportunities at LSU, and I want to graduate and have no regrets - I don’t want to look back at something I said no to.”
Ford spends the majority of his time working for students, but he does it with style. Once his involvement reached a certain level, he found himself in meetings with university officials and state legislators, and he felt the need to dress more professionally.
“There is a certain way that you have to dress to be taken seriously,” said Ford. “I wanted people to know when I walked into a room I was a student, but a serious student as well.”
Ford believes in being stylish and aside from having his suits altered, he has an affinity for skinny ties.
“I have a soft spot for skinny ties, but I can’t really wear them a lot because they haven’t taken off around here as much as they have elsewhere,” said Ford. “I like bow ties but it takes me about an hour to tie them, so I don’t wear them as much.”
As far as determination and style go, Ford is covered. But when asked what the biggest challenge is to being a leader, he brings out a saying from President Harry S. Truman, “The buck stops here.”
“Whenever you are at the top of the chain, the buck really does stop with you. You get the blame or the praise,” said Ford.
Co-founder of Educate LA, a non-profit organization that creates a coalition of college students from higher learning institutions across the state to advocate for improvements in higher education during the legislative session, Ford encountered a few challenges while coordinating such a massive campaign.
“I would say that most of the things we wanted to happen actually happened, but I won’t say that we are the ones who made it happen,” said Ford. “We pushed to make the voice of students heard.”
Ford organized a rally where roughly 800 students in the Shreveport and Monroe areas gathered to draw attention to issues affecting higher education, and it wasn’t without bumps in the road.
“It was crunch time – three days until the event – and we were calling newspapers trying to get advertisements in papers,” describes Ford. “We kept hearing they were booked for the time we wanted.”
They eventually reached a compromise with the newspapers, but Ford said this represents one of the main functions of a leader – problem solving.
Ford’s accomplishments and involvement speak for themselves, but his open-minded approach to leadership has aided him in working with others.
“I try always to be in a good mood, and treat everyone like they want to be treated,” said Ford. “That’s not just respect. Some people prefer text to email, and I try to accommodate that.”
Whether he’s getting his suit altered, buying a new skinny tie or advocating for LSU at the legislature, John Parker Ford always wears a smile that doesn’t quite hide his determination to get the job done.