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Wheaton North High School. (Dawn Rhodes, Chicago Tribune)

Wheaton North High School. (Dawn Rhodes, Chicago Tribune)

By Yosan Alemu, Wheaton North 

On November 4th, two great events were taking place that day. The first being the Cub’s overdue championship parade, and the second being Wheaton North had the privilege to host Mike Smith, a motivational speaker.

The leadership conference began with Smith’s stories about his small-town, Nebraskan life. Mike was what he called the “ordinary” kid, but during his senior year of high school, he came across a revelation that would change his life forever. Mike realized that he did not have to be ordinary, that going through life passively was a choice, and with that mentality in place, he set out to make an impact. Mike has founded two nonprofit organizations that mobilize the youth. With strong messages of empathy and inclusiveness, Mike helps students understand that they too can alter someone’s life for the better–all it takes is passion and purpose.

In a sit-down interview with Mike Smith, he provided great insight about the incredible things he is doing. When asked what inspires him to continue his mission, Mike said, “There’s a huge opportunity to inspire the next generation.They have a chance to do what other generations could never do.” He goes on to mention that every student today has the power to stand up for what they believe in. Mike expresses that student leadership is vital, not only for the students themselves but for the future as well: “When students are collaborating and actively listening to each other’s comments and concerns, they’re honing important skills that will help transform them to become better thinkers, helpers, and essentially better people.

As someone with two nonprofit organizations to juggle, Mike shares his passion for his work. The two nonprofits, The Bay and Skate for Change. Both organizations have a common theme that revolves around the ideas of youth engagement, positivity, and change. The Bay works to connect young individuals with positive activities and communities and Skate for Change combines the artful skill of skateboarding with community outreach. When asked about the future of his organizations, Mike replied enthusiastically that they hope to have 100 Skate for Change chapters around the world. The current eighty chapters are located in the U.S., Canada, Brazil, Japan, Tanzania, Bosnia, and Chile. With Skate for Change, specifically at the Lincoln chapter, Mike wants to create a school based on experimental learning, meaning students attend traditional schooling four days a week, while the fifth day is reserved for hands-on job training and other fundamental experiences. Mike further explained that he and his team are actively working to “bridge the gap between low income, at risk youth, inspiring them to be great and to do great things.”

Mike, in partnership with The Harbor, sets out to further promote his message for leadership and success. The Harbor creates free educational videos that expose students to real-life perspectives that will aide them along away in their transition into adulthood. Mike shares that “kids no longer want cheesy versions of reality, but rather want real, authentic conversations in the classroom, and the Harbor gives students that very opportunity. With episodes that discuss bullying, civics, bias, and awareness–to just name a few–, students are given the chance to participant in the dialogue that is shaping our world.

Students from Wheaton North also attended the conference. Isabel Grant-Funck, junior, provides her own personal insight: “Mike has really inspired me to notice everyone. Everyone has value, we all matter, and only by working together to create a better school environment, are we all given the chance to thrive.” Echoing the same sentiments, Zoe Prendeville, junior, recounts that Mike’s words resonated with her. She goes on to mention that Mike has inspired her to become a voice for those who are continuously silenced.

At the final stages of the conference, Mike ended his presentation with a key question: What will you be remembered for? With the tools of passion and purpose, everyone has the ability to be remembered for the extraordinary.

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