November 2021 eNews Guest Editor, Symone Thompson (YLT 18)

I was honored and surprised when asked by my Youth Leadership Tallahassee advisors, Lili Hoffman and Casey Grisby, to be the November eNews guest editor and share my Youth Leadership Tallahassee (YLT) experience on behalf of the “best class ever,” Class 18.  

I initially heard about Youth Leadership Tallahassee through friends who participated in previous classes.  Unsure of what it entailed, I did some research in the spring semester of my sophomore year of high school.  Upon learning that YLT was a student-centered program that offers opportunities for its participants to engage with influential community members and students from schools throughout the county, I was more interested than ever.  Walking into the Chamber for my interview on a Saturday morning, I was anxious and excited, hoping for the opportunity to share my ideas for our community and the role youth may have in them.  After hearing back from the program that I was accepted, I was excited for the opportunities and excitement to come.

After our initial retreat, I recognized that I joined an important organization that allowed me to be in a group of like-minded high school juniors, concerned with change and making the world around them a better place.  We collaborated to solve complex issues like untying an “impossible” knot and tested our competitive sides with some very intense rock-paper-scissors tournaments (I did in fact beat out all of the other members of my class—twice—to be the victor of both games).  Through these and other exercises, our class recognized that we were undoubtedly better together.  The more we worked as a team, the more we would be able to accomplish.  It was easy to see that this concept can easily be applied beyond our class to the broader community and country.  Think about all that could be accomplished!

Although my time in the program thus far has been relatively brief, I am already confronted with the reality that you get out of Youth Leadership Tallahassee what you put into it.  My incredible class has already shown that we are going to put in our all, resulting in amazing and unique solutions to common problems.

Being involved in YLT has given me the opportunity to learn from my peers in unexpected ways.  While we’re all leaders, we each have our own leadership techniques and there’s no one-size-fits-all style.  I’ve also learned about myself, that I don’t have to be the loudest one in the room to get others to hear me.  I have enjoyed engaging in discussions, asking probing questions and learning new things.  It’s interesting and inspiring to hear from successful members of our community in such a range of sectors.  Gaining unprecedented access to the best minds our community has to offer has proven to be an amazing honor.

Through my experience with YLT thus far, I have no reservations saying it is one of the best decisions I have made in high school.  In addition to making friends who share my passion for community service and improvement, I have already been exposed to information that has revealed new ways to look at situations throughout Tallahassee.  My favorite example of this is learning that the beautifully colorful and unique paintings on power boxes all over town were originally a solution to vandalism.  Ideas like this, which are not exceedingly difficult or expensive, but still make our community brighter and more beautiful, are the kind my class is looking to implement.  We’ve been floating ideas like a community library, food bank or hygiene center, any of which would help our city be a place where everyone feels welcome and like they belong.

Although we have only met all together four times, we have already met the Superintendent, pitched a business idea to local business owners Shark-Tank style, and have gotten to see how the most popular park in town, Cascades Park, was transformed from a holding pond to one of the best parks in America.

I am not only excited by the prospect of what our class can do, but also the changes we can make and inspire.  In Tallahassee and beyond, YLT will have equipped us with noteworthy skills and stimulated a desire to make a difference.

YLT Class 18:  The Best Class Ever is Even Better Together
By Symone Thompson

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