Last Saturday I had the opportunity to attend the graduation ceremony of this year’s S.U.C.C.E.S.S. Youth Leadership Millennium (YLM) program. I participated in the same program seven years ago and since then have been volunteering there.
Although I have attended many of the graduations as a volunteer over the past years, this was the first time I was invited to speak in front of the audience from my perspective as an alumnus. Writing the speech gave me a chance to reflect over the past seven years and how different aspects of YLM have been part of my life.
Much of what I wanted to share with the graduates included learning and applying what was learned to life. The first point was to get the graduates to reflect on what they had learned in the program. I learned a lot during the seven-month program, hard skills like running meetings, and soft skills like working with others. I was also exposed to different things that I wouldn’t have tried on my own.
The second point was to keep learning throughout their lives. The motto of my elementary school was “Be a Learner for Life”. The program can’t teach you everything there is to know about leadership within seven months. It’s up to each individual to put in the effort to better themselves.
The final point was to apply what they learned in their lives. I think much of the benefit of YLM wasn’t really within the program but what came afterward. The opportunities of applying what I learned in YLM Council and further developing the things that I learned in the program was what I found most beneficial.
I’m including the text of the speech I drafted below. For the actual speech, I did cut some parts out to save time because the other speakers also covered about some of the things I had planned, however I stuck with the three main points.
This was my first time speaking at an event like this as an alumnus of the program. Again I learned a lot from this particular experience both when reflecting to write the speech, and giving it on the day.
Seven years ago I was sitting in the same place as you are today.I had just gone through bronze, many of the same things you did this year. For example team building exercises, first aid training, leadership skill workshops, career panel, toastmasters, Strathcona camp, a Community Leadership Initiative (CLI) project, and the Duke of Edinburgh’s award culminating to the hike up Garibaldi Mountain and many other things.I have to admit there were some things that I didn’t fully enjoy in the program, like some of the more “dry” sessions or boring but necessary activities that I won’t name in specific. But on the other hand there were things that I really enjoyed in the program like the Strathcona camp, hanging out with my CLI and hiking group, and feeling the accomplishment after milestones of the program such as conquering Garibaldi and finishing our CLI project. I think many of you would share some of the same feelings.Throughout my YLM Bronze year, I learned many things. For example, how to chair a meeting, how to record minutes of a meeting, some first aid skills just in case, public speaking skills for occasions like these, and how to be attentive when lighting the stove. YLM gave me a chance to learn things I wouldn’t have tried on my own, like rock climbing and kayaking. And it also gave me a chance to work together with people who had the same passions as I had. Some of the things I learned in my CLI project such as ways to work together efficiently without wasting time and giving different kinds of presentations I could take away from the program and apply to projects at school and now life at work.Some of you may consider today to be the end or completion as if leadership is something on a checklist. I led, done that – check, what’s next? Although this is called the closing ceremony, I think it definitely should not be the end. Rather, I would like to challenge you to think of it as a beginning. Think about all the things you learned in the past seven months. I know many of you worked very hard on your CLI projects and you learned things like how to communicate and work effectively as a team, how to approach people for sponsorships, and how to better express your viewpoints to your fellow teammates and to the public. I’m sure it may have been the first time some of you did some of these things, and you may not have been as successful as you hoped at some of the tasks. But the most important thing is that you reflect on what you learned from the process and learn from your successes and learn from your failures.I went to Sir Wilfrid Laurier Elementary School. The school motto is “Be a Learner for Life”. I believe this is very applicable throughout our lives. Never stop learning and applying what you learn. Because the moment you stop learning new things and stop applying what you learn, you will start to forget them. Here’s an example: I learned a lot about chemistry in high school, things like stoichiometry, oxidation and reduction, and how to do titrations. But I have since forgotten all of these things because I have never applied them in my daily life.I believe many of the things you learned in YLM you can apply to things you do in life regardless of what discipline you enter. You will very likely have to work with different people in order to achieve a common goal. You will likely have to communicate with others whether it’s in a team setting, or in front of a group of people. So, keep learning and sharpening those skills you gained over the last seven months.So now the question is “how”? What can we do? Where can we go from here to keep sharpening those skills.?For me, I decided to join YLM Council. Unlike things at school, many of the things we do on council are because we want to. This year we organized a field trip to the aquarium because we wanted to. We put on a BBQ because we wanted to. We decorated gingerbread houses at our Christmas party because we wanted to. For the past years, I’ve helped out repeatedly with the production of the yearbook because it’s something I’m interested in. I find council to be a comfortable place where I’m able to develop my leadership skills further like facilitating small groups and meetings, mentoring others, teaching yearbook design skills. So those are some reason why I decided to join YLM Council.You can join the silver and gold program. Many of the talented leaders who led you through your Duke of Edinburgh’s Award were graduates of the silver and gold programs. I’m not a graduate of the silver or gold programs myself, so I can’t share my experiences with it personally. However, over the years I have seen many of the graduates (most of whom are part of YLM council) develop their boldness of leadership through the silver and gold programs.If you really want to get away from YLM, I would at least like to encourage you to join clubs at school or volunteer at the organizations of your choice, or even create your own club with your friends or your fellow YLM graduates. Pick something you enjoy doing, and make a difference in the community around you.YLM isn’t going to make you a perfect leader within seven months. It definitely gives some of the foundation but ultimately it’s up to you to take the skills you’ve learned here to the next level.Before I conclude, on behalf of the council core team this year I would like to extend our gratitude to a special group of guests here today: the parents of the participants. I remember my parents making sacrifices for me in my Bronze year, for example, making sure that I was at the meeting points for Strathcona and the hikes very early in the morning and other sessions. Thank you to the parents for supporting and encouraging your children throughout these seven months. Although sometimes your children might not express it directly (I know I didn’t), I’m sure your children truly appreciate your love and support for them.So to wrap up, participants, I know you have learned a lot during YLM in the last seven months. Keep learning and applying the skills you’ve learned in your daily life, at school, in your home, and in your community. Do something positive with the skills you’ve developed, and go make a difference.