There’s no such as “normal”. Everyone is unique; everyone is weird in their own, wonderful ways. That’s the message a group of Grade 8 student leaders is putting out this week as they host a conference for fellow youth on campus.
The Accepting 2 Connecting leadership conference, they say, aims to show young teenagers like themselves that in order to lead, you need to be comfortable in your own skin.
“We’re calling it Accepting 2 Connecting because it’s about accepting differences in people and accepting differences in leadership styles. You have embrace whatever makes you weird,” says Firinne R., one of the student organizers.
“You have to be able to accept yourself and be confident in yourself before you can really start accepting others,” adds Marina F.
Eighteen Grade 8 students have spent the last two months planning the conference, which happens Friday (January 27). Facilitated by two Middle School staff members, Ms. Dariol Haydock and Ms. Tanya Lee, it’s the students themselves who are doing ALL of the organizing, scheduling, booking, purchasing and planning work.
Ms. Lee says it’s important that students gain hands-on leadership skills – the same skills they’ll be pushing at the conference – by organizing it all themselves.
“We also do it because, at this age, they’re capable of putting a conference together. And quite often they’re unaware that they’re able to until they’re given the opportunity,” she says. “They also look at this conference through the 13- and 14-year-old lens. So what better organizers for a conference for 13- and 14-year-olds than Grade 8 students?”
“I’ve been involved in other leadership opportunities, but never as an organizer. It’ll feel good when it’s all over and I go home feeling, ‘Wow, I accomplished something really great,'” says Divyesh N. “It’s been cool, but harder than I thought it would be. I thought it would just be, ‘Go to exploratory, we work for a bit, it’s going to be fun,’ but there’s been so much to do!”
“I’ve gone to conferences and Model UN and WE Day before, and you don’t really think about all the work that goes into them; you just go there and have fun,” adds Firinne. “We’re learning we have to do things for ourselves and figure things out and take responsibility for our jobs, but we also have to work as a team and collaborate.”
The conference will feature two keynote speakers – Anna Soole and Calvin Black – and attendees will get to attend two workshop sessions led by a mix of SMUS teachers and great outside speakers. Nearly 100 students from different schools will attend workshops that touch on risk-taking, mindfulness, collaboration, confidence, servant leadership and accepting diversity.
“We all hope they leave inspired. If they have a cause they want to support they should take advice from the people leading the workshops or ask for advice if they don’t know how to support their cause,” says Cindy P. “I hope they take away something and act on what they want to, not just learn all these things, get excited and not do anything with what they learned.”
The student organizers all say that the theme of “embracing your weird” has been prevalent during the experience of planning this conference.
“We all have our different strengths, and that’s a big part of planning this conference. We got to choose where we thought our strengths would work well, and it’s allowed us to accept our strengths and use them. But also knowing we have flaws and places where we don’t shine,” Marina says.
“I’m really excited to hear the speakers and to see everyone from all the other schools,” Cindy says. “I’m excited to hear what ideas everyone has for their own schools and I hope everyone leaves more open to being a leader.”