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Sophomore boys chosen for elite Youth Leadership Tallahassee

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YLT boysBy Caroline Kirk

For the first time in five years, the group of Leon students selected for Youth Leadership Tallahassee (YLT) is dominated by boys. Of the ten sophomores accepted into the competitive YLT Class for next year, seven happen to be boys.

Brought together by a sense of compassion and understanding of those around them, these young men stood out to the interview committee and proved themselves as distinguished or aspiring leaders.

Each year YLT selects 30 to 40 upcoming juniors in high school to partake in a yearlong leadership development program. This consists of monthly “program days” where the students get to learn about various sectors of the Tallahassee community.

The past two YLT Class members from Leon have been dominated by girls. To have 7 boys selected is an anomaly from Leon, but sophomores Sebastian Campo, Stanley Georges, Danny Killeen, Phillip Okonkwo, Phill Tchourioukanov, J.D. Varn and Walker Webb are anxious for what awaits next year.

“Empathy is often hard for teenage boys to have or understand,” Tchourioukanov said. “It’s cliché to use the phrase ‘putting yourself in someone’s shoes’, but I believe that is what got most of us accepted to this program.”

Although each boy provided their own definition of leadership—from confident to service-oriented to “not being afraid to push the boundaries that restrict others,” all of them agreed that to be a leader you must be genuine.

A large component of the process to be accepted, is a formal interview. For most sophomores, this is their first experience in an interview setting.
There are three adult graduates of the Leadership Tallahassee program who ask questions about students’ involvement, leadership, or thoughts on various community topics.

Sticking to the idea of being genuine, when the adults asked Campo who he would go to lunch with, dead or alive, he simply responded by saying he would love to go and eat with his brother.

Webb felt he succeeded in his interview by connecting it all back to why leadership is important to our community. “We must each lead with a purpose,” Walker said. “I expressed that I wasn’t there just to be a part of YLT. I want to help others.”

Echoing Webb, Killeen said, “YLT is an opportunity to see how the community works and increase our abilities to work with others,” Killeen said.

Not only will they get to make community connections, they will also partake in adventurous activities such as a Ride Along with the Tallahassee Police Department and a “Public Service” day working with firefighters and EMTs.

“I’ve had opportunities to lead before,” Georges said, “but I didn’t always take them and run. On the track team, I could have asserted myself and led us to greater success.”

Varn and Okonkwo felt similarly. Varn hopes to improve his leadership through YLT. Although he is in Student Government, he says he only leads when he’s comfortable.

“I’m pretty friendly,” Okonkwo said, “and that helps me initiate leadership. But I want to learn to be more comfortable and push to initiate change.”
The boys will attend YLT orientation soon and an opening retreat over summer to kick-off their leadership program and development.