After five uneventful hours on the road, I stood there dumbfounded and wondered what I got myself into. Running to grab my bags before I could catch my breath, sweating as they chanted nonsensical words, these smiling college kids welcomed me to the Louisiana Youth Seminar. I was immediately directed upstairs where I was ushered into a dorm room with nineteen other high school students. We sat there staring at each other, and we just burst out laughing, thinking we were in way over our heads.
After the initial shock subsided, I chatted with the other students. As I familiarized myself with the group members I would spend the next six days with, there was something that became very apparent -- no one was formed from the same mold. There was a mix of private and public school kids; we had the starting cornerback, the lead actor, and the sole girl from her high school’s engineering program.
Everyone in our group was dissimilar. How could people who are so different yearn for the same goal? This thought troubled me, and I wondered if I had made the right decision by attending this leadership seminar.
Over the next six days, I would spend an immense amount of time with the other members of my small group. Bombarded with several challenges, we started to develop the tools necessary to become effective leaders. Learning communication skills, overcoming obstacles, meeting deadlines, and being resourceful were a few of the tests that we had to face during that hectic week. Each activity presented new barriers we would have to surmount, and as each activity passed, I realized that various members of the group served as leaders, but in different ways. Sidney was the most outgoing, Kejuan was always there to make a joke, Sam was willing to do the jobs no one else wanted to, Sarah was our great negotiator, Raven was there to keep us on task, my job was to keep everyone’s spirits up. We were all leaders who had found our niche, and it was our differences that allowed the group’s imagination to become a reality.
I used to have a clear image in my head of the perfect leader. They were eloquent speakers with a clear vision of what they wanted, able to tell people what to do so their individual idea became reality. After LYS, I realized there is no perfect leader, but rather characteristics that make great leaders. These are the leaders who think first about others before themselves, who see a problem and become obsessed with fixing it, who know what should be and have the vision to make it a reality. They may not be the most outgoing or have that special something that sets them apart, but these are the leaders worth following, the leaders who strive to make the world a little more extraordinary.
Every person in my small group had their own experiences, their own expectations, their own aspirations. We were all different, but our goal was the same - we wanted to become leaders worth following. LYS opened the minds of three hundred young people to the possibility of change, but its effect on me was so much greater. I learned that differences are a gateway disguised as an obstacle. Once we learn to see through the facade, a whole new array of relationships and opportunities is made available to us.
So there we were, twenty among three hundred, chanting words that made us smile from ear to ear as we walked back to the dorm hall for the last time. When we came, we were strangers who could not be more different. As we prepared to leave, we were friends who learned to put aside our differences and look at each other, not as the jock or the thespian, but rather a person with a desire to make the world a little more extraordinary.