By Starrla Cray
DELANO, MN What happens when more than 400 high school students from around the world gather for a weeklong leadership seminar?
For Delano High School junior Amanda Keranen, the Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership (HOBY) World Leadership Congress was an experience she’ll take with her the rest of her life.
“It changed my way of thinking,” she said. “I learned a lot about myself, and how to use my strengths to better those around me.”
The conference took place July 21-28 at Loyola University Chicago’s lakeshore campus, and involved collaborative workshops, leadership exercises, community service projects, and individualized training.
According to a HOBY press release, the goal is to show participants “how to think, rather than what to think,” and provide a catalyst to lifelong leadership development.
“It was definitely better than I expected,” Keranen said. “In a way, I got to see the world in a week.” Keranen was part of a diverse team of students from places like Taiwan, Mexico, China, South Korea, Canada, and throughout the US.
“At my school in Delano, I’m with people like me all week. It was really eye-opening to see that a leader doesn’t have to have a life like mine,” Keranen said.
Keranen describes her life as “easy,” with a supportive family, caring community, and good school. Many people at the conference did not share her background, however.
“Some of them had been through huge tragedies,” she said.
Despite dissimilar upbringings, Keranen had developed meaningful friendships with many participants by the end of the week.
“You create a bond with them that’s really strong,” Keranen said. “Some shared things they had never told anyone else.”
Spending time with students from other parts of the world made Keranen more aware of her own surroundings, as well.
“Americans should be really thankful for the freedoms we have,” she said. “Not everyone can go home, relax, enjoy themselves, and spend time with family.”
Local education is also better than in many other places, she added.
“As I talked to others at the conference, both from America and overseas, it became apparent that we really have excellent schools,” Keranen noted. “Our teachers and staff really set the bar high and make sure we succeed, and that is not something that happens everywhere; so, we should make sure we always appreciate the value of our school.”
Keranen has always been a proponent of school, and hopes to become an elementary teacher someday.
“I’m lucky to be able to use what I learned at HOBY so easily in my future plans,” she said.
Keranen isn’t waiting until she has a teaching degree to inspire others, however.
At the start of the school year, she and a few friends spent about 20 minutes presenting “real lessons of life” to sixth-graders. Each month, the group plans to explore different topics, such as bullying, identity, choices, and goals.
At Delano High School, Keranen is involved in an assortment of activities, including soccer, choir, student council, and Students Helping Adolescents Resist Pressures (SHARP), to name a few.
“I just love to do everything,” Keranen said. “I could probably be labeled as an athlete, but I could also be labeled as a nerd.”
Keranen hopes to show younger students that labels aren’t important, and that friends don’t all have to be the same.
“Some of my best friends aren’t like me at all,” she said.
For Keranen, the opportunity to attend HOBY started with a state-level HOBY leadership conference at Bethel University the first week of summer. While there, Keranen was selected for a partial scholarship to the world HOBY conference in Chicago.
For the remainder of the cost, Keranen received sponsorships from Landscape Structures, Delano Lions Club, Delano High School, Werner Electric, and family and friends.
To learn more about HOBY, go to www.hoby.org.