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By Hannah O’Koon, Beacon Academy

This weekend, I attended the Rotary Youth Leadership Awards, or RYLA in East Troy, Wisconsin. Over 200 high schoolers were selected from around Illinois to attend this conference to learn about leadership, and how we can be leaders in our daily lives. Throughout the weekend, there were speakers and fun team building activities that built community. I decided to apply to RYLA after one of my teachers approached me about it, thinking that it would be a great experience for me. I am beyond grateful for this, and without her I would ever have known about this amazing experience. Although RYLA was only three days, I made amazing connections to so many people from all over the state. RYLA was an amazing experience, and I encourage everyone to consider applying for next year’s conference.

Each day, we heard from various speakers who discussed their roles as a leader. All the speakers were leaders, but in very different, unique ways. After hearing each speaker, I began to set goals for myself. For example, a speaker from Rachel’s Challenge came to speak to us. He lost his niece Rachel in the Columbine High School shooting on April 20, 1999. He talked about small acts of kindness, and including everyone no matter how difficult it may be. I challenged myself to to do just that at school. Just asking someone to sit with me is such a small act of kindness, but it can make a large difference. Another speaker we heard from was a man who ran an 11 billion dollar company. Highly successful, he discussed the people who motivated him to become a leader in his position of power. He discussed the different generations that are present in the United States, from the traditionalists and Baby Boomers to the millennials. Describing how these different generations of people become leaders, he encouraged all of us, as millennials, to become leaders in the workplace. As we all graduate high school and move on towards the next chapters in our lives, he encouraged us to remember that as millennials, we are the future.

RYLA was just three short days, but I felt very motivated (and exhausted) at the end, and was ready to go home and bring everything I learned into my school community. This was an unbelievable opportunity, I strongly encourage high schoolers to apply for next years session. Not only did I learn from multiple inspirational leaders, I connected with future leaders from around Illinois. In just three days, we became a community, and acted almost like a family. Never before have I seen such dedication from the staff, and excitement and motivation from over 200 teens from around Illinois.

Learn more about Rotary International and RYLA here: https://www.rotary.org/en/get-involved/join-leaders/rotaract-interact-and-ryla

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