It is no secret that in today’s postmodern information age, it is just as difficult to successfully navigate through adolescence as ever. Today, we are bombarded with information and stimulation from all angles, constantly being driven by advertisements, messages, and discourses battling to define who we are, what we should buy, and what we should strive to be. At an age when students begin to form a self-concept and a sense of autonomy, these forces can be a cause of great stress and anxiety. Not surprisingly, many adolescents struggle with a sense of alienation and a desire for external validation. This can be manifested in many forms including submission to peer pressure, extreme shyness, bullying, apathy and other destructive/counterproductive behaviors. It is under these conditions that leadership is needed—leadership that will not only serve as a guide towards personal enlightenment, but also inspire others to live a life of purpose and virtue. To further understand leadership as it applies to today’s youth, we will explore some of its components through the lives of our communities’ own.
Fourteen-year-old Carina Martinez is an incoming freshman encountering high school for the first time. On paper, Carina is a student who has excelled academically with commended TAKS scores and an acknowledgement of academic recognition from the President of the United States. However, behind the top grades exists one of the most important aspects of personal growth and success. It is the driving force behind every major discovery and one’s desire to learn, and that is the power of curiosity. Carina, who at first appears a bit quiet and reserved, looks out into the world with a sense of wonder. Through photography, writing and a love for music, she enjoys developing her artistic side. In her spare time, for instance, she decided to teach herself to play the ukulele, after being inspired by a character from a novel. For Carina, the arts are a vehicle for expression, which allow her to better understand herself and the world around her. “I think that’s just what’s healthiest.” At a very early age she also had an interest in psychology, intrigued by the way people think, function and communicate with one another. To expand her knowledge of people, Carina uses book and observation, as well as traveling, which exposes her to the cultural and human diversity around the planet. The curiosity to learn and to understand is always at the forefront of personal breakthroughs. It provides us the motivation to understand our problems and overcome our obstacles. The earlier we can learn to be curious, the stronger curiosity can serve as a tool for good.
“I realized then that being a leader means having the ability to influence people—to have that spark that makes people want to listen to you. And I think that in today’s high school adolescent environment, which is now a social media frenzy, that couldn’t be more important,” explained Victoria Ochoa, age 17. An entering senior at IB, Victoria possesses one of the most desired traits in an apathy-plagued environment, ambition. Victoria has big plans. As a participant in the 2010 National Hispanic Institute LDZ Youth Legislative Session, she underwent a journey of personal and cultural identity and empowerment. Today she has a vision for the future. As an adolescent, learning how to address an audience and speak one’s mind, both in the virtual world of social media as well as the real world, is vital. Shortly after the LDZ Youth Legislative Session, Victoria decided to take action. She put forth a project on Facebook and created the group “Don’t Be Stupid.” This forum allows young people to discuss issues of philosophy, politics and culture, as well as other things that affect our lives while engaging in constructive debate. She faced many obstacles such as having people participate and maintaining a sense of order and civility in the heated debates. However, she maintained her firm belief in the importance of building public discussion and worked through her fear of failure. In March of this year, Victoria was able to interview government representatives Steny Hoyer and Nancy Pelosi. After discussing some of the same issues from her forum, she was proud to acknowledge that there were over 300 members from 5 different states in the country. Victoria continues to work towards living through her passion of education and knowledge and helping to create the world she envisions. When we have ambitions, we develop an internal drive that will keep us moving during our darkest hours. This drive also becomes contagious and inspires others to act and free themselves from the forces of indifference and fear.
Gabriel Ozuna, 18, is a graduate of IDEA school in McAllen, will be attending Yale University in the fall, and has presided as president over Junior Statesmen of America. There is no doubt this young man is, and will continue to be, in a position of leadership. However, more important than any title, position or material prize, is the life of respect Gabriel chooses to live by—respect for his fellow man as well as himself. Once in a position of leadership, respect for self and others is what Gabriel exhibits to maintain a sense of integrity. It is the ability to listen and care about the needs of others, to live one’s life with honesty and to see the inherent value in every individual. This sense of personal responsibility, guided by respect, creates the necessary attitude to avoid distractions and maintain focus on one’s goals based on inner values, which leads to success. Success for Gabriel is not measured by an end result necessarily. Instead, in a very philosophical way, the process itself measures success. It is the ongoing process of new goals and new challenges, while reflecting on where you have arrived and where you would like to be. A life of personal integrity, goal setting, and self-reflection will naturally bring many positive results as well as opportunity. Respect means the courage to live with authenticity, often times threatened by external pressures. It serves as an inner check-and-balance, saving us from losing control.
As we embark on a new century with new challenges and new possibilities, we must begin to take on the role of leadership in our own lives. There is much to learn from the youth. Even though they face the difficult transition of childhood to adulthood, we see examples of new beginnings, new ways of thinking and inspiration powered by the idealism and energy so epitomized by what it means to be young. We can also all work together to motivate and encourage those who are still looking for their inner purpose. We can provide the support and encouragement for those around us to live their dreams and face their fears with courage and resilience, because they are the dreamers of tomorrow, they are the artists whose work will light up the future.