Youth Showcase Leadership Skills at Grad Nation Summit

I have been told time and time again that youth lack the “soft skills” it takes to succeed in the business world. This statement was immediately proved wrong at the Grad Nation Youth Pre-Summit this March in Washington D.C. Fifty youth (ages 13-25) were chosen by America’s Promise Alliance to attend the insightful event, and more than 50 attended on their own.

Early in November/December I was selected to be on the Youth Executive Planning Committee. Our mission was to plan and create a Youth Pre-Summit for the Grad Nation Summit with the APA office’s Laney Oaks and Cody Ruxton. On our many conference calls and emails, we sorted through the applications and selected students to attend the Youth Pre-Summit, and formulated the Youth Pre-Summit schedule and activities. The importance of that work was reinforced by an amazing experience at the Grad Nation Youth Pre Summit.

The youth participants first met on Sunday morning. As soon as they entered the door, I knew the day would be great. Each committee member was assigned a table of students to be with throughout the experience, and the youth participants were given cards with our faces on them to find us. Though I had to wait for the last few students to trickle in to fill my table, it was well worth the wait! My table epitomized the often used phrase of “youth engagement.” From students giving up a year to work in the Washington D.C. schools (City Year with AmeriCorps) to a 14 year old student from middle school, we had broad representation of youth experiences.  Shaking each other’s hands and introducing ourselves, the beginning of the Summit felt like a networking event a business might put on (again knocking the no “soft skills” stereotype out of the park).

The Youth Pre Summit was the perfect place to introduce students to the purposes and vision of the Grad Nation Summit and to the other types of work America’s Promise Alliance forwards. We planned out what sessions the students would attend the following day, talked about internships, shared our own stories about our travel down the road of education, heard from a great panel of  youth leaders in education reform, and much more. A few of my favorite highlights from the Youth Pre Summit: Team Rockstar (aka my table)’s chant: “I love K through 12, put another kid in college baby!” (think ‘I Love Rock and Roll’), the posters with youth input, hung outside the doors of the Grad Nation Summit the next day, and Colton Bradford’s video—a different take on the dropout crisis.

Though we prepared the youth for the logistics of the Grad Nation Summit the following day, I found myself unprepared for how much it would impact my life. The sheer magnitude of the event amazed me. It covered nearly every segment of America’s education system. I heard people talk about urban schools, school districts rebuilding after natural disasters, charter schools, public schools, and post-secondary education. I also had the opportunity to speak about Montana schools fight to end the drop-out crisis.

What struck me most was America’s Promise Alliance’s true investment in youth. They did not just have a youth Pre Summit and then throw the youth into the classic teacher student role during the Grad Nation Summit. APA involved youth in many different aspects of the summit. My fellow board member Lawrence Harris spoke at the reception, Lucy Tucker spoke on a panel on the “Big Stage,” Michael Bock introduced the band on Monday night, Tiffany Taylor and Jonathon Morris spoke on the big stage as well. The Grad Nation Summit involved youth like no other professional Summit I have attended.

Each time I work with America’s Promise Alliance I am amazed at how they carry their mission through with youth involvement. Hopefully other organizations will follow their lead. Until then, America’s Promise Alliance has found the silver lining that leads the way to nationwide youth empowerment.