By Sarah Wang
Maintaining good grades, attending extracurriculars, and holding leadership positions on campus can be very stressful responsibilities for high school students. Yet, at Arcadia High School, there are many students who not only accomplish all these feats but also excel in them with stellar attitudes. In early February, these star students were given the opportunity to enter a competitive selection process for a chance to attend the Rotary Youth Leadership Awards camp on March 16-18 hosted by the District 5300 branch of Rotary International.
Rotary, an international service organization that encourages ethics, leadership, and humanitarian values at all ages, hosts the annual weekend training camp for high school sophomores and juniors across the country. Applicants undergo a highly selective application and interview process at their high schools in order to attend the all-costs covered camp. This year, Arcadia High was fortunate enough to send 15 sponsored students: Annelise El-Khoury, Armand Minasian, Braden Wong, Chris Meng, Dean Frame, Glenda Yong, Gloria Chu, Matthew Nguyen, Maruko Myint, Sarah Wang, Shinjini Das, Trinity Jolley, Tyler Berger, Vincent Leong, and Zoe Lam.
Taking one day off of school, the students met with fellow “RYLArians” around the area early Friday morning for the 1.5 hour bus drive up to Camp Cedar Crest in Big Bear, CA. Upon reaching their destination, they were greeted by their senior counselors — some of last year’s RYLA attendees — with complimentary sweatshirts, bags, water pouches, and stationary. In accordance with Rotary’s mission to provide a “worldly” experience, the campers were immediately grouped into “continents” and “cities” in which they would participate in each activity with.
Throughout the action-packed three-day weekend, these campers learned how to enhance their leadership, communication, and creative thinking skills in a myriad of different workshops and activities that taught them new things about themselves as well as their peers. Each day featured several plenary sessions in which student MCs led fun songs, a “four-way test” for ethics, a benediction, and the Pledge of Allegiance before introducing the day’s motivational speaker, such as author Scott Greenberg and hearing-impaired comedienne Kathy Buckley. The rest of the day consisted of workshops that included trust falls, blind communication, egg drops, ethics exercises, food packaging, and culture walks that tested the students’ abilities and inspired them to think outside of the box and give back to their community.
Amid the fun, food, and snow, the RYLArians had one overarching purpose at the camp: develop a solution to better the world. Specifically, the students were tasked with tackling hunger, clean water, or education and presenting a tangible action plan in video format. After working for a few hours over the weekend with their cities, their videos were presented to the judges. Ultimately, South America’s Caracas group took home the grand prize of $750 for their hunger plan, which focused on female empowerment and community farming.
With that, the campers concluded their RYLA experience and returned home with new perspectives and many unforgettable memories. “I came into RYLA thinking it wouldn’t really affect me as a person, but I learned so much about myself in such little time, met some amazing people, and had a genuinely incredible experience,” muses sophomore Shinjini Das. Shinjini, like many of her peers, looks forward to returning to camp as Junior and Senior Counselors for next year’s batch of promising young leaders.
Congratulations to these outstanding students for being recognized for their service and leadership and keep up the good work, Apaches!