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A Lesson in Leadership

Enthusiastic conversations bubbled around me as I reluctantly approached the end of the line. A stranger bounded toward me and pointed me to a table where I was to make myself a nametag. After casually writing my name, an energetic voice suggested that the nametag be colored. I smiled, my initial reluctance vanished, and I picked up a marker.

I had just arrived at the Rotary Youth Leadership Awards (RYLA) conference. This mountain camp had a different atmosphere from anywhere I had been before, replete with positive attitudes and devoid of any animosity. Not only were the experiences at the leadership conference to be enjoyable, they would also profoundly influence my view of the world.

While growing up, the people I knew praised the idea that leaders were responsible and honest. A leader who upheld what was right and condemned what was wrong was considered exemplary. After attending RYLA, I questioned whether this was all that qualified a person as a leader, and I realized that my definition of leadership had been seriously lacking.

While at RYLA, I learned leadership of a different form than I had previously known. During one competition, my team was participating in a hula-hoop passing contest when a young disabled person asked to join. We could easily have explained that her involvement would slow us down, but instead we included her without hesitation. Even after losing the competition, we had no regret in our decision; the lasting impact of seeing how grateful she was to be involved far outweighed the ephemeral excitement of winning. The priceless lesson that I learned during this experience was to be kind; more importance should be placed on people than on material goals.

Although this was only one week in my life, what I learned at the conference was a lesson that still remains with me. In all aspects of my life where I am a leader, I now lead more successfully because of the benevolence that I extend toward others. Helping a person in need moves them toward success as well as increases the chance that they will help others. If leadership is inspiring positive action by one’s own actions, then kindness is an essential aspect of leadership.

Responsibility and honesty are fundamental parts of leadership, but without kindness, a leader will not thrive. Through many incredible experiences during my week at RYLA, I learned this priceless lesson and will incorporate it into all that I do. Whether studying for a college exam or beginning an organization within my community, I am now better prepared to face life’s inevitable challenges in a way that was previously unknown to me.

Ryan K.




I was dead.

I was dead. A part of me, that is. In the whirlwind of activities and relationships I was involved with, I began to lose a part of myself. I was so caught up in life, but I was forgetting how to live and how to love. All my energy was focused on myself; everything was me, me, me. I was becoming a cold person, and was losing my passion for living. However, just at the time when I was being acclimated with the person I was becoming, an opportunity to change my attitude was set right before my eyes.

The summer before my junior year, I had the opportunity to attend RYLA as a conferee. The weeklong leadership camp left me in a certain “mode”. I was full of energy and enthusiasm and kept a positive attitude at all times. RYLA had affected me so greatly, I decided to apply to be a Junior Counselor for the next year. So, I filled out the application and sent it in. I was elated a few months later when I found the acceptance letter in the mailbox. I knew the job of leading a group of kids the same age as me through various activities for an entire week was not going to be easy, but I was as determined as ever. I was overflowing with excitement, but, soon enough the ecstasy faded away.

It wasn’t too long after receiving my letter of acceptance that reality hit me like a hard blow to the stomach. I had to snap out of “RYLA mode” and get focused on what was most important in life, which was me, of course. I began to believe that the world revolved around me. Sports and school activities became more important than my family, and I was just too busy studying to take time to ask how anyone else’s day had been. Being involved in so many activities while trying to keep perfect grades and a satisfactory social life was beginning to drain me emotionally. I was irritable, cranky, and awfully mean to the people who loved me most. I knew I was not a fun person to be around, yet I continued in my steadfast ways.

When July rolled around and it was time to go to Greeley, Colorado for RYLA training, I entered the weekend grudgingly. The last thing I wanted to do was hang out with a group of strangers for two days when I could be spending quality time at home doing whatever I wanted to do. Although I had a relatively good time, I was nevertheless dreading the first week of August when the conference was to be held. Even on the trip to Estes Park the day before the conference began, my attitude had not yet changed.
From the moment I climbed out of my car with stiff and sore legs, I was overcome with a feeling of rejuvenation. Fellow counsellors, young and old alike, were greeting me with smiles and contagious enthusiasm. It was almost like I was a totally different person than I had been just seconds before. From that point on, I didn’t think twice about the person I had left behind—the person I had been.

After being reunited with my fellow Junior Counselors, I knew I had to give the week my best shot. So I did. I was a confidant to the kids in my group. I was their support when they needed me and I did my best to share with them the amazing emotions I was feeling. I tried so hard to be positive and always wear a smile. I never realized I could give so many compliments to so many people. Who knew telling someone thy had a beautiful smile would brighten their entire day? Yet, the best part about all of these things I was trying so hard to do and to be, was that I was reaping so much more than I was giving. I was putting others before myself, and the results were phenomenal. I could see how complimenting a person left a sparkle in their eye, and seeing that sparkle meant more to me than the compliment had meant to the person. I was giving love, but I was receiving even more. Efforts I would have considered naïve and wasteful not a week before were fulfilling the emptiness inside me. I was evolving, and taking as much from it as I could.

The week proved to be harder than I had imagined. I was staying up until all hours of the night, fretfully tearing around trying to find absent conferees, all while trying not to lose my temper with opinionated colleagues. By the time Friday rolled around, I was running on a mere two hours of sleep and my patience was being tested to the limit. But I didn’t care. Occurrences that would have caused me to throw a tantrum just days prior seemed more than worth it now. The energy and zest that was pulsing through my veins overpowered any hardships I may have encountered during the week.

It seems nearly impossible for me to express all the emotions and feelings I experienced at RYLA. All I know is that it changed my outlook on living. I began to appreciate the beauty around me, whether it was in nature or in a certain aspect of another’s personality I discovered something within myself, I achieved a greater accomplishment than anything I could have done with my own two hands. When I returned home from Estes Park, I knew I would never want to be like the person I had been before RYLA. I wanted to be the kind of person who would put his or her own life on the line for a total stranger, however, if I couldn’t do that, at least I could buy ice cream for the stranger behind me in line. My life took on an entirely new purpose. My compassion and love of life was rekindled. I was living again and I was loving again. And most importantly, my heart was beating again.

Katy A.