By Curt Yeomans
Twenty-three high school sophomores wrapped up nine months of leadership training last week with their graduation from the Clayton County Chamber of Commerce's Clayton Youth Leadership Program.
Since last September, the students have been working on developing their leadership qualities through monthly workshops, mock job interviews, community service projects, and a leadership retreat. The months of developing their abilities to lead others culminated last Thursday with their graduation ceremony at the J. Charlie Griswell Senior Center in Jonesboro.
"I am extremely proud of them," said Clayton Youth Leadership Program Co-chairperson Gwendolyn Williams, after the ceremony ended. "They work very hard. They are very dedicated, and they are committed to learning how to be leaders in their community."
The Clayton Youth Leadership Program has been in existence since 1989, and it is designed to teach young people, during their sophomore year in high school, about being community leaders as they prepare to begin making decisions about their post-high school lives, Williams said.
The youths who participate in the program have to apply, and go through an interview process. They are all students who earn "A's" and "B's" and are recommended by teachers and administrators at their schools, Williams said.
The graduates are: (Forest Park High School) Alexandra Gardner, Lillian Jordan; (Lovejoy High School) Jerrel Baker, Michael Butler, Elizabeth Cooper, James Dinkins, Safiya Goldson, Jill Martin, Davis Nguyen, Arielle Thomas, Sharifah Williams; (Morrow High School) Karla Arevalo, Carl Daniel, II, Thu Doan, Jazmyn Jennings, Katelyn Perry; (Mundy's Mill High School) Garriann Clayton, David Thomas, Jr.; (North Clayton High School) Jocelyn Lopez, Xavier Smith, Pragati Soni, Savon Thomas, and Sandaly Traore.
As the students move into their junior year of high school, they will begin looking at decisions about where they will go to college, and what fields of study they will pursue to prepare them for the work force, Clayton Youth Leadership Program officials said.
"I think they're great leaders now, so I think they'll be phenomenal leaders by the time they graduate [from high school]," said program Co-chairperson Victoria Lowe.
Guest speaker Kim Blue, a client services manager for the youth development organization, INROADS, offered advice to youths during the ceremony. Blue told the graduates they needed to spend the final two years of high school putting into practice the lessons they learned through the leadership program.
She also urged them to consider how they will be viewed by other people when they establish their "brand," or the identity by which they will become publicly known.
"What is your brand?" said Blue to the graduates. "Are you always late? Do you dress appropriately? People get to know you by your habits. You need to start developing your brand now to represent you the best way possible."
Some of the graduates said they learned the importance of having strong communication skills, and the ability to work with diverse groups of people, as a result of their participation in the program.
"I got better leadership skills out of it, like how to work with very diverse people, and it enhanced my public speaking skills," said graduate, Jill Martin, 15.
"It's important to interact with people, find out their side, and negotiate with them to find a solution to problems," said Katelyn Perry, 16, who also won the Clayton Youth Leadership Program's Kathy Wages Scholarship Award for her comprehension of the program's ideals.