Lead, learn, live: RYLA

My camp experience

Lyndsay Valadez, News Editor

I was called down to my counselor’s office to find out I was one of two students nominated to represent SHS at Rotary Youth Leadership Awards, a leadership camp. Of course, I thought that would be a super cool experience, but then I started thinking. I was terrified to go somewhere knowing I would see only one other familiar face, without my phone to contact the other familiar faces at home, let alone the fact that I would be an hour away from home for three days.

Nonetheless, I went. And, to say the least, I loved it. I learned a lot about leadership, specifically good leadership, as that was the intention. However, that definitely was not the extent of it. I learned a lot about the people around me as people, not as their schools’ stereotype, or as their ability to speak English. Each encounter was so significant to me, because I knew I would never see any but one or two of them again in my life. Not only did I learn a lot about others, but I also learned a lot about myself and what I am capable of.

I did participate in many activities I did not feel entirely comfortable doing, but I guess that’s what the staff members meant when they told us students we would be encouraged to work outside of our comfort zone. They held true to their word as I was immersed into a wildly diverse population of students that weren’t quite like me and was challenged to do tasks I wouldn’t normally do. I was blindfolded in multiple team-bonding and trust exercises. I walked over a body of water on a what felt like a never-ending bridge blindfolded.

I even held a tarantula.

Yes. I, Lyndsay Valadez, held a tarantula. That was, of course, after I held a cockroach. While this was the scariest activity I participated in, it wasn’t the most shocking.

One of the most shocking parts about it all was that two of the people I related with most and felt most comfortable around were from PERRY, my school’s rival. It’s funny how much I grew up listening to others around me instead of experiencing the truth myself. I grew up in the Southport community learning that I’m suppose to practically hate anyone from PMHS. Then, there I was, listening to people introduce themselves at my lunch table, saying “My name is…” and then, “I’m from Perry,” thinking ‘that can’t be right.’ I talked to two girls, that, if I had grown up with, I knew we would have been best friends, but they were from PMHS.

Aside from learning to find out things for myself, the most powerful bit of information that I gained was that every decision made has an effect on something else, big or small. One of the last activities we did was form two circles, with the inside sitting and eyes closed, while the outside walked around the inside circle tapping their shoulders. At first, it felt like duck duck goose, but it was much better than that. Each tap meant that someone made an impact. The person leading the game would say, for example “tap someone who made you laugh this weekend,” and the outside would tap the shoulder of the person inside that this applied to. While I don’t know who tapped my shoulder, I know that I made a lot of small impacts on a lot of people over the short course of three days. It was a great feeling, and the entire trip was a great experience.

The experience made me realize that I can be a leader in any situation, despite my title, that a leader is not always the one who’s talking, but also, if I want something to get done, I have to step up and do it. learned that no matter the day or time, each interaction with others has an impact on someone, that it’s much more valuable to learn about the person next to you than to ignore them, that it’s easier to work as a team in a lot of situations and that if I want to reach a goal bad enough, I would overcome the challenges that lie ahead undoubtedly. I learned more than just leadership skills, but life skills, and I am very grateful to have gotten the chance to experience camp RYLA.