September 5, 2017

Every year, LGW welcomes some of the region's most promising high school sophomores and juniors for Youth Leadership Greater Washington (YLGW), a six-month learning experience focused on leadership topics and exploring community issues. As we get ready to recruit the next generation of leaders, YLGW Class of 2017 alum and Centerville High School senior Rithika, looks back on her time in YLGW and shares her thoughts and advice for future YLGW participants. 

Six months ago, I would never have expected what a life-changing experience I was about to go through with YLGW, and now I am a better leader because of it. My experiences with YLGW were nothing short of spectacular. Every day was designed to examine a different aspect of what makes a good leader, each aligning with the guiding principles of this class, Mindfulness, Empathy, and Inclusiveness, such as Health and Social Action Day, each guided so fantastically by Fred and Margarita. These two kept the atmosphere balanced with excitement and self-actualization, and their achieving, positive attitude was as energizing as 10 cups of coffee every morning. 

One of the most beneficial aspects of this program is the exposure it grants us leaders to the best of the world. I have met some incredible people who grew out of their adversity, such as Alison Malmon who created Active Minds Inc. following the devastating loss of her brother, to those who go around empowering others to make an impact on the world, like Joseph Green who does this through poetry. All these people are distinct leaders, and that is perhaps one of the most important messages that YLGW gave us: we will each make a difference in the world in our own way. Aside from the awe-inspiring people I have met, the activities we did to exercise our talents were unbelievable, but in a good way. I particularly liked discovering my personality and leadership type on Leadership Day, which allowed me to realize my strengths, and I grudgingly admit my weaknesses, but overall gave me an explicit understanding of my defining characteristics. But that is not what I remember from the program, what I best remember are the activities where I had to brainstorm ideas with my fellow graduates, where I participated in improvisation, when we examined the lasting influences of social leaders in the National Portrait Gallery, and when we did yoga. 

These activities may seem bizarre, but each and every one had a lesson in what makes a good leader; working with all the different people allowed me to gain different perspectives throughout the program, improvisation showed me the importance of divergent thinking and charisma, exploring the history of leaders empowered me to stand up for what I believe in and appreciate the world we live in, and the yoga simply gave me a luxury many of us don’t have these days: a moment to myself, a moment to connect with the world implicitly. 

I, myself, can confidently cite this program as a defining moment in my high school career where I went in with a blank slate and came out with a masterpiece. I woke up every morning before YLGW with bright eyes and an open mind, excited for what was yet to happen that day, and honestly that is near impossible for any teenager to feel at 5 o’clock in the morning. 

With YLGW, you can only expect the unexpected. I have met so many astounding young leaders, who I wouldn’t have met without this program, I have done so many enlightening, yet incredibly enjoyable, activities that allowed me to grow in ways I never expected, and I have met inspiring leaders who are causing groundbreaking change every single minute, who I had been blind to before. We are all different individuals, and it is this diversity in ideas, experiences, and talents that will enable us to overcome challenges and excel in great opportunities forever. YLGW is not a destination, it’s a journey. It doesn’t just make exceptional leaders, that is the positive consequences of what it truly does: it makes exceptional individuals.