National Young Leaders Day (25/05/2016)

National Young Leaders Day
National Young Leaders Day

When I parked my car at school this morning my eyes were scratchy and I was still half asleep. School was quiet and the sun was yet to rise up. At about 5:45am we left school that morning for Auckland and the National Young Leaders’ Conference 2016. Our small group of 19 Year 12s looking flash in our blazers and ties were representing our school at the annual conference for young leaders with the purpose of meeting others like us, learning from them and being inspired by them.

There were many other schools there from all around the top half of the North Island and the speakers at the conference came from all around New Zealand. It was held at the Vodafone Events Centre and the halls themselves inspired leadership. Images of Jonah Lomu, Hamish Carter and other famous New Zealand athletes and leaders adorned the walls as we walked into the venue and gave a sense of greatness and for me personally a feeling of being part of the next generation of young New Zealand leaders.

We were addressed by a range of speakers who had different stories, backgrounds and forms of leadership. They all inspired us in different ways and used different mediums as we were the audience of speeches, video documentaries, a dance, songs and pieces by a spoken word artist. One speaker was a girl, Brylee Mills, who was a dancer for Sydney’s prestigious Brent Street Performing Arts Studio.  She accomplished that feat with only having a one arm since a severe car accident when she was 6. Another speaker was a man Chris Jupp whose goal in life is to spread love and kindness around the world and he is very active in helping villages in poverty-stricken countries such as Africa. He spoke of his tear-jerking experiences with people in need and inspired everyone to share a little love with the world and be a better person. The two speakers who personally resonated with me the most were Billy Graham and Jonny Shannon.

Billy told us stories of his tough upbringing with little education or support for a future, but showed how by using boxing as his vehicle he could live a successful life supporting young kids and his community and be able to live his dreams of meeting icons such as Joe Frazier and the late great Muhammad Ali. He gave us examples of his ‘can-do’ attitude and encouraged us to set goals and do all that we could to achieve them, and if we did that we would live a successful and happy life. He went on to say emphatically and confidently that at 64 years old he had achieved everything he wanted to in life. This gave me the inspiration to do exactly that and afterwards while talking with my peers, we all agreed that we felt a new sense of confidence that if we really wanted to do something, we just had to set our mind to it. Billy was the type of guy who didn’t come from a fruitful upbringing with a range of pathways and opportunities, but by putting everything he had into what he loved it gave back to him and he was able to give back to his community, support youth all over New Zealand and be a happy man. 

Another speaker who really got my attention and I took a lot from was Jonny Shannon. Jonny was a young bloke of about 28 who seemed like he had it all. Jonny had the look, the smile, confidence, a commanding presence and to top it off he co-created a million dollar app that blew up in the USA. However all was not well for Jonny as a kid. He told stories of his major struggles with self-image from his severe acne problems and small stature, struggling to fit in at any of his many schools and his embarrassment through his dyslexia. His point through it all was that everything gets better. He assured us over and over that everything gets better. I thought this was really important and relevant to us high school students as we can really struggle with life at times and find it all be too much whether it be from self-esteem issues, school, bullying or anything else like that. We all thought Jonny was so cool and an awesome guy and reminded us of Danny Zuko from ‘Grease’.  That was the type of charisma he oozed. But he showed us that he had come a long way from where he used to be to where he is now to and so by him giving us that message we all gained a new sense of hope. Lots of young people struggle with the same issues that Jonny fought with and to see him where he is now reassured all of us that, ‘everything gets better’. He also said the key to being confident in yourself is ‘identify your weaknesses and secure them, identify your strengths and explore them’. He told us that by growing to live with and be confident with his weaknesses and flaws he felt far more comfortable and by focusing on his strengths and sticking to what he’s good at, he felt successful, confident and safe.

That quote personally was huge for me and my mates as we thought to ourselves ,“I can’t be perfect at everything, but you can bet I’ll be great at somethings”. I think this mind-set is very relevant with school and in life as you can’t be successful at everything, but if you find what you’re good at and really push yourself at it, then your life will be successful. Great leaders are not the best at everything and are not supremely perfect, but what they do well at, they make sure they push themselves to do it at a level far beyond. My mates were raving about the conference afterwards and loved the experience. We all got so much from it and in the end it did inspire leadership in all of us. The messages of hope, hard work, overcoming adversity all gave us the confidence to succeed in life and lead our peers, our schools and the next generation of young people in New Zealand. I hope next year’s crop of Year 12s will find the conference as beneficial I did.  It was an awesome opportunity for us this year!

By Trent McVarnock