Leaders of Today and Tomorrow

This past weekend, our National Youth Activation Committee members were here in Washington, DC for the bi-annual National YAC meeting! 19 youth leaders, along with 14 mentors from their local state Special Olympics Programs, came together from around the country to brainstorm ideas and plan for a great year of projects and activities.

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As always – I was blown away by these amazing and inspiring youth leaders who help catapult our movement of acceptance and respect into schools and towns across the country. While there were so many examples of their incredible leadership throughout the weekend, I had to share the results of one particular activity during a professional development session.

In the activity, each National YAC member was asked to develop a quote that expressed their ideas, thoughts, values, feelings or attitudes about Special Olympics, friends, family and/or courage.

The results are amazing. These young people are truly the leaders of today… but they will most certainly be the leaders of the future as well.

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“Special Olympics isn’t just for people with disabilities… Special Olympics has helped me find my voice, build my confidence and identify my passion.”
Kaitlyn Smith, Colorado

“Stop watching every step you take. Close your eyes and let the world surprise you.”
Shelby Lynne Dial, Wyoming

“Everyone can help create change; you just have to believe in yourself.”
Heather Glaser, Wyoming

“Let the way you walk and talk exemplify who you truly are.”
Daniel Fink, Washington

“Leaders don’t follow the path of the past; leaders make their own path. If they are a true leader, no matter the obstacles, they will prevail.”
Dallas Lopez, Texas

“Everyday a new challenge awaits, it’s up to us to find the right path.”
Brady Platt, South Carolina

“Our memories define us: every laugh, every kiss, every tear is a part of who we are. So let’s strive to become better people starting with our memories.”
Rachel Alm, Hawaii

“I am nothing without my Special Olympics family – they encourage and inspire me to be better.”
Kelsey Foster, South Carolina

“Life with your three musketeers always makes you happy.”
James Kweon, Idaho

“Change should be respected, not hated.”
Bernice Higa-French, Hawaii

“Each of us is created with a seed deep within. When you embrace the sunshine of all circumstances and be open to the shower of others’ influence, only then will a beautiful flower grow that will be a gift to the world.”
Danielle Liebl, Minnesota

“There are four words on the Special Olympics medal: skill, courage, sharing and joy. Skill is the least important because the other three are what win you the gold.”
Jordan Schubert, Philadelphia

“I want to live in a world where madness is meditated, nonsense is valued, challenges are embraced and fostering creativity and imagination is our greatest objective.”
Evan Heller, Massachusetts

“Life as a star is like reaching a certain goal. Our favorite YAC family is like a huge star – above and beyond.”
Tanealya Hueth, Montana

Leadership: From High School to College

As you step down from the podium with your high school diploma in hand, you find yourself in an interim stage between adolescence and adulthood.  You feel as though you have arrived at Platform 9 ¾, stuck between worlds and ready to be carted off to a place perhaps just as magical as Hogwarts: college. While settling in on campus, so many things will change, but you must always remember that you are still a leader.  Everything you learned in high school and all the experience you gained will not go to waste; it will form the foundation of your college leadership.

With every passing year, you are given more freedom at the cost of responsibility.  High school allows you to act as independently as you may while still living under your parents’ roof.  Most youth leadership in high school allows students to form their own plans and carry them out under the structured guidance and supervision of faculty.  During this period, youth seem to be given a leadership permit—the wheel is handed over to them, but the adults still have a brake pedal installed in the passenger side just in case.  This allows students to develop their leadership skills, while letting adults take care of the boring work of forms and finances.

Transitioning from being a leader in high school to a leader in college may seem like you’re hitting the ground running, but it’s not as drastic as it seems.  At its heart, leadership at all stages is about inspiring people.  It’s true, there won’t be as much hand-holding and at times it may feel like the system is working against you, but pushing through all of that will not only make a name for yourself on campus, but foster your leadership ability in a way that you never before had the chance to.  You will be expected to work more independently, but even at college, there is always someone to reach out to for help when needed.  It is essential that you find the right people who will help you along your way, but let you work through your trials on your own.  College can be the best years of your life, but unlike in some high schools, you must always be actively seeking out opportunities to seize.

A leader is someone who shapes their community, so as you enter the realm of higher education, shape yours so that you leave it as a better place than when you first arrived.