I grew up in Ontario, OR; a small town that sits on the west side of the Snake River on the Oregon/Idaho border. Located in an area that has dry, hot summers and cold winters, Ontario is home to about 12,000 and is part of one of the poorest counties in the state. My hometown has seen some tough times; when the economy tanks, Ontario gets hit hard. When it booms, not much seems to change. The story isn’t much different for the surrounding communities. But the towns continue to persevere.
Normally, I return to Ontario to visit family for birthdays or holidays, but recently I spent some time there for a very different reason. My best friend, Justin Skeesuck, and I were asked to speak at a leadership summit for high school students; something that didn’t happen in my day.
Intrigued, we agreed to participate in the event, not really sure what to expect. What we experienced was incredible. More than eight hundred young men and women from all over the valley (some traveled more than an hour) gathered at the local community college to play games, celebrate community and relationships, and learn about leadership.
While Justin and I were the ones doing the “teaching”, I think we learned more than anyone else.
The energy of these students from communities far and wide was palpable. Each one seemed excited to be there, to be alive, to be a part of something bigger than themselves. We watched the event unfold with laughter, screams of joy, and all kinds of shenanigans. When it came time for us to speak, the gym was full of attentive future leaders.
We finished speaking to a much more enthusiastic applause than expected from eight hundred high school students and moved to a table where we met more than a hundred of the attendees. As the many beautiful faces came through the line, we were asked questions about leading well, about how to motivate others, questions delving into self-worth, and comments about what each person took away from the talk we had just given.
The most impactful thing though wasn’t any single question or comment, it wasn’t the joy and energy that filled the room; it was something that simmered just under the surface of so many personalities. The part of this incredible evening that struck me the most was the zest for life each young man and woman seemed to possess. There was a vigor, a strength in each face that filled me with joy and a little bit of shame. Joy because in the face of that kind of young, vibrant power, I was filled with hope for our future. Shame because somewhere along the way I, like so many others I know, have lost the “I can change the world” attitude.
These future change makers reminded me of something incredibly important. To sum it up best I want to use the words of one young man I met that night:
Whether one or a thousand follow us, the most important thing we can do is lead well. Numbers don’t matter.
I am thankful for the reminder that we all have the power to change the world one person, one relationship, one moment at a time.