| FROM ACADEMY PRESS | BY DAVID LAX | SEPTEMBER, 2012 |
June 8, 2012. A Friday, two days after I had finished exams. In the grand scheme of things, the last thing on my mind was going to a leadership seminar for a three day weekend with a small group of kids from Boston schools. Knowing that a lot of my friends were out enjoying the summer, probably still sleeping in, I found myself at Bentley University, walking around campus with a duffel bag at some crazy hour like 7:30 in the morning. I wondered if it would have been preferable to be spending the weekend with my friends, instead of whatever I was in for. I had expected 30 or 50 kids about my age, all of whom had come to the program just to put it on their college resume. Who wouldn’t want to go to a Hugh O’Bryant Youth Leadership (HOBY) program? I found the registration area, which had over a hundred kids in line, all looking a little shy, unsure what the program would be like. We all got checked in, and headed into a huge cafeteria room. This is where all my preconceptions were completely shattered in an instant.
We walked down the stairs into the lively, cheering cafeteria, seeing over a hundred others, who had already gotten to their groups, and were playing big games of Ninja or icebreakers or were coloring posters. What was so amazing was how much enthusiasm the staff members could create from a group of high-school sophomores who didn’t know each other, this early in the morning! The shouts echoed through the room as we all tried to find our groups. My group was right in the middle of things, coloring some superman emblems (our group was Lois Lane and Clark Kent!) to put as badges on our shirts later. We introduced each other, started some ice breakers, and headed over to a huge auditorium on the other side of the hilly campus, learning cheers and chants all along the way.
Then we got to the seminar part, which was almost organized like a huge ASM—never mind, scratch that. Kids and staff combined, over 300 people in a huge auditorium, just sitting, listening to the speaker. We had quite a few memorable speakers over the 3 days, including one of the top mentalists in the country who explained that his manipulations were just a kind of leadership, to a woman who gave us a survey with animal groups that told us what kinds of leaders we all were, to WBZ- TV’s Steve Burton, all talking about leadership amongst talented individuals, grasping opportunities in our lives and communities, and appreciating what we have. For me, most memorably, John Jacobs from the Life is Good T-Shirt brand spoke, telling the inspiring story of how he and his brother, who were completely broke for many years, had always wanted to start their own company, and always stayed optimistic, even when times got incredibly hard. They had to spend winters out in the cold streets of Boston trying to sell their T shirts so they could afford to eat every day, and though it was hard at first, they got creative with their logo and motto, and eventually became really successful. Nowadays, the brothers do fundraisers and community service across the Greater Boston area to help inspire the optimism that kept them going and got them to where they are. This is just an idea of what one of these seminars was like.
In other activities throughout the program, with smiling faces all weekend long, we went to Cradles to Crayons and helped organize thousands of packages of clothing and supplies for the upcoming year to under-privileged children and teens, as we worked throughout the day organizing our own donations (HOBY had us bring a bag each at the start of the program) and helping tons of kids with just a few hours of work. In addition, though I had been to Cradles to Crayons many times throughout my youth with my middle and elementary schools, so many people at the program had never been there, and some had not even heard of it. This opened me up to how diverse we all were—which was another focus of the program, because there were so many people from all over Massachusetts. In fact, most people in my group live so far from the city that the idea of BUA—a high-school on a college campus seemed unreal. Conversely, a boy in my group, Alan, lives on a farm and told me what that was like.
The individual groups we had when we were not in seminars—the group I ate with, had meetings with, and walked all around campus with—grew to be almost like a family in just a few days. Two girls in my group formed a bond so close over the span of those days that most anyone would have thought they had been friends for years, by the way they trusted each other and could predict each other’s actions. That was where the program really awed me. I mean, I had just finished school exams, and most everyone else was in the middle of them, but HOBY still could put all of that out of their heads for the weekend as they focused on community activities and how to embrace every opportunity properly. Overall, the seminar taught me what kind of a leader I am and what makes me tick, how you can brighten anyone’s day with a smile and the right kind words, and how well you can get to know a group of teens in under three days whom you would never otherwise have even met. I am proud to be a HOBY alum, and look forward to going to alumni events, carrying these skills into life with me, and being even closer to my group today than I was on Sunday when we all left Bentley Campus for home, feeling like we had been at the program for weeks, and deep down having no idea how much we would miss each other.