Living, Learning, and Leading by Sarah Smith
I grew up with role models everywhere; good ones to look up to and bad ones to learn from before I could make the same mistakes on my own. I was not used to paving a path for myself despite being the oldest of my two sisters and the oldest cousin on both sides of my family. I know how to get a job done, but I never knew how to start a project on my own. Like most other teenagers, it took me a while to find my place. By the time I reached high school, I had learned what kinds of friends are compatible for me, where I fit in, and how to adjust to new surroundings. But maybe I didn’t just want to fit in; maybe I wanted something more.
I saw high school as a fresh start after middle school. I made friends quickly and learned what I liked to do, what I didn’t like to do, and what I wanted to be more involved in so I could develop it as a passion. This passion was leadership. The term may seem broad to most, but that was as specific an answer as I could come up with by the end of my sophomore year. I loved helping kids, tutoring my sister in math, and taking charge of school projects. I desired more to organize something at my high school because I wanted to make a difference and extend a hand to those who need it. There was only one problem: I didn’t know where to start.
HOBY was my first defining moment as a leader. I was immediately interested when it was announced at my school and was thrilled when I discovered that I would be one of the lucky two applicants selected to spend a weekend at Villanova University for this exceptional leadership conference. During my first hour there, I found many friends within my assigned group and avidly participated in every activity. I was so appreciative for everything that we did and I found importance in every piece of advice given to me by the leaders who spoke. On the day that I left the program, I vowed to myself that I would not take any of my new-found knowledge for granted, but I would use it to better my school and community.
As soon as I got home, I continued brainstorming ideas for leadership at my school. Then came my most successful feat after HOBY. I noticed a gap in extracurricular options at my school: there were no activities available for students interested in business. Business and marketing were topics that sparked my interest after talking to my dad and some close family-friends about what it takes to work in that field. I have always enjoyed organizing, working with numbers, utilizing creativity, and helping others; so, this seemed like a perfect fit.
After doing some research and recruiting the help of my sister, a sophomore at the time, I became the founder and president of the “Entrepreneurship and Innovation Club” (EI club) in November 2016 for students interested in business. Our initial task was to schedule a meeting with our principal to get the club approved, then recruit a faculty moderator. Our first challenge came during this search. A few teachers declined in taking on the task due to schedule conflicts and lack of overall business knowledge. I was discouraged but persevered through this obstacle and ultimately found a teacher excited to take on the assignment. This experience especially taught me not to give up on an idea I feel passionate about, and that being a leader often involves innovation (finding an alternative route to accomplish a goal).
During the two weeks before the first meeting, my sister (the vice president) and I created a semester-long, three-point plan of execution. First, bring in a local leader to speak about an entrepreneurship-related topic. Second, involve club members in a project that incorporates marketing and finance by selling a product or service. Third, organize a field trip at the end of the semester to the NASDAQ stock exchange to learn about the stock market.
The Entrepreneurship and Innovation Club had its first meeting in January of 2017 with an unprecedented turnout of 25 students. It was eventually decided upon that the club would be producing laptop and phone case stickers to raise money for our school’s annual dance marathon fundraiser called NAZ-A-THON for the CHOP miracle network. We worked non-stop on designs and price negotiations with a distributor while simultaneously planning and carrying out a successful outing to New York City where we visited the NASDAQ stock exchange and Cooley Law Firm to meet with our local leader Jeff Libson, a lawyer working with entrepreneurial companies. Our members are already excited for next year’s trip and for the stickers which will be sold by the beginning of the 2017-2018 school year.
I consider myself a leader among my peers because I am now not afraid to take risks, start something new, or reach out to others with an idea to make our community better. Learning to lead at HOBY and then initiating and leading a business club have improved my confidence to try new things. Through my current experiences I have learned what kind of person I want to be and I continue to challenge myself by seeking out new opportunities to learn from. After applying to and attending two other leadership based camps this past summer (Pennsylvania Free Enterprise Week and Economics for Leaders), I’ve learned that successful leaders don’t just dictate to others, they serve and teach. I’ve discovered that when you allow your team members to learn and grow with you, great things can be achieved.
Submitted by our members as well as teens across the world.