Written by Claire Adams

This year’s ILANZ conference was held in Tauranga at the end of July. For me a highlight was the keynote speaker to conclude the second day, Cam Calkoen. Like all of us, Cam couldn’t walk and talk at birth, however he faced more challenges than most to develop these skills because he was born with cerebral palsy. Instead of focusing on his differences and what others might assume he is (or is not) capable of, Cam celebrates his unique qualities and leverages them to inspire others. 

One of the thought-provoking stories Cam shared with us was about his first days at high school. This was not an easy time for Cam as some students were unwelcoming, seeing his differences as vulnerabilities and in turn challenging Cam’s perspective on what he could achieve. The principal however saw potential and taking Cam by surprise, asked “What can you do for our school?”. This shifted Cam’s expectations of the years that lay ahead – from solely receiving education, to an opportunity to explore how he could contribute to the school in ways that no one else could. 

I find the approaches of both sides to this interaction powerful. A leader who looks for unique characteristics in people and provides a space for them to be valued, and Cam perceiving the question as a challenge, what is unique to me and how can I use those qualities to benefit others? 

Wearing a shirt covered in smiley faces, holding gold medals from the athletics world stage and having walked to the top of Mt Kilimanjaro, Cam is proof that when we are opportunity-focused and we embrace all types of diversity, truly wonderful things can happen. 

Thank you to ILANZ for hosting another excellent conference and creating a space for the in-house legal community to connect with each other, to learn, and to be inspired. 

Cam Calkoen talking at the ILANZ conference