Brittany Smith, Senior, travelled to St Louis, Missouri for the Town Meeting Of Tomorrow 2016 Conference and was recognized as the Top Female Leader at the conference. Take time to read her follow up on her experience representing the Rams in the community and beyond!
What kinds of activities did you participate in at the conference?
The conference activities centered on three main themes; Addressing the issues facing modern society, Self-discovery, and team building. It was a fun and challenging four days but I am a better person for having attended.
When we arrived at the hotel in St. Louis we were divided into seven random teams. My team known as “Hot Pink” was made up of 10 students from all across the country, each with his or her own background, ability, and perspective. The first formal activity was a team building experience called the TMOT Olympics. This activity involved various mental and physical events set in a friendly competitive environment. While working through these challenges we came to know and trust one another, we learned of each other’s strengths and weaknesses, and most importantly, learned how to overcome our individual differences for the good of the group.
That same night, there was another community building activity to help get to know one another better in a safe and comfortable environment. It was also the only night I actually got to bed before midnight.
The next day started off with more team building followed by an interview session. Our interview involved spending 15 minutes with various members of the St. Louis community talking about leadership, society, and other related topics. We then dove into our first “self-discovery” workshop in which we slowly discovered what was most important to us in regard to goals, people, and possessions. We listed our priorities for each category and then we were directed to methodically narrow the list. Through this process I learned what really mattered to me and that I wasn’t focusing my time on what I had identified as important.
Once our self-assessments were complete we formed groups and were asked to address some of the issues facing our world today. In this exercise we were split into six groups and were assigned different problems related to high school. The topic for our group was “stereotyping”. We were tasked with finding a solution to stereotyping in school, the behaviors that accompany it, and ways to prevent it in the future. Our group came to a consensus on a mission statement and a stepped approach to address the issue. While we were working through the details of our solution we learned that another group had the same topic and we were asked to come together and combine our ideas. We came together forming a group totaling 25 kids and attempted to reach consensus. Fortunately, everyone was very receptive, responsive, and contributed to our “safe space environment”. This was when the magic happened. We presented our ideas to the full group and got feedback from our peers to better our plan. At that moment I knew that I wasn’t “in Kansas anymore” because the level of respect and maturity displayed by each student in attendance was unbelievable. Everyone’s unique ideas and perspectives were valued and used toward the benefit of the group. It was an enlightening experience to say the least.
The last of the activities on the agenda for the night was a dance in one of the hotel ballrooms. I stopped by and let loose with some friends, then met up with “Ohio”. The Ohio group and I hit it off very quickly and we wound up spending much of the night sharing stories and throwing goldfish.
The next morning arrived after a solid four hours of sleep but I was ready to go because of the inspiration of my peers. We took busses to the beautiful Washington University and spent time exploring the campus and taking pictures before the next activity; an introspective exercise designed to help each student develop a one-minute elevator speech outlining their goals and abilities.
Next, a group of political science enthusiasts (myself included) were pulled aside and informed that we were to facilitate the next workshop. Earlier in the conference each student had written down three things that they wanted to talk about regarding our nation’s current situation, and after the votes were tallied the discussion topics were identified as equality, economics, and the current political system. This experience was one of the most unique challenges I faced at the Town Meeting on Tomorrow. I was no longer the student leading the discussion and sharing my opinion but rather was there as a moderator, a person whose opinion was unknown and sole purpose was to help others express their views. This workshop changed me in a matter of hours. I quickly realized I had a talent for helping others believe in themselves and become better than they thought they ever could be. It was truly inspiring to see such an opinionated group discuss taboo topics in a productive and respectful manner. It filled me with hope not only for my future but for the future of our country and our world.
After an amazing dinner at the chancellor of Washington University’s house, we returned to our hotel for the TMOT talent extravaganza. This event featured traditional talents such as singing and dancing along with the more unique talents such as a political skit and hypnosis. We had a great time but we soon realized that the time was passing far too quickly. Suffice to say we had another late night to take advantage of every second we had together.
On our final full day, we engaged in team building activities that helped us to realize how close we had become in just a matter of days. I was blindfolded and guided by my team with complete faith that they wouldn’t let me fall. That night we traded out our sweatshirts for suits and dresses for our awards banquet where they announced the top male and female leaders of the conference. I was honored to be recognized as the top female leader for TMOT 2016, especially given the caliber of the group from which I was chosen. We celebrated and exchanged some “congratulations” for a bit but it wasn’t long before we were all back in our sweats and t-shirts, enjoying each other’s company and making every moment of the night last.
TMOT was truly a life changing event for us all. We came together as individuals but left as a group of friends bound by a burning desire to make our world a better place. Personally, I came away with many great memories and a better understanding of myself and my role in society. I connected with a great group of people and that connection lives on in the form of a group chat that sees at least 200 texts a day. It was truly an honor and a privilege to be associated with such a talented and caring group of students who were able to recognize and celebrate individual accomplishments while building each other up when we needed it the most. I am a better person for having experienced TMOT 2016 and look forward to paying forward what was given to me during the experience.
How were you able to display your leadership skills at the conference?
When I arrived at the Town Meeting on Tomorrow I joined a group of students who exemplified drive, dedication, and leadership. Each of us brought unique experiences, perspectives, and resumes. One of my peers summed it up perfectly, “When you’re used to being on top it is hard to walk into a room full of people just like you”. We all came to realize we were no longer the best or the brightest but rather we were a part of a talented and somewhat intimidating assemblage of individuals. This realization knocked down our pride and hurt a bit but those feelings were quickly replaced by a feeling of belonging and purpose as we got to know one another.
As the event unfolded I found myself rising as a leader among leaders. I was able to quickly understand the group and the high caliber students within, the good and the bad. Of course, everyone had wonderful abilities and stories, but the group also had its faults. Many times the louder voices would be heard over the softer ones and occasionally there were power struggles within the activities. After identifying these challenges, I was able to facilitate for my peers and to help people be heard and have their opinions equally valued.
My understanding of leadership was both affirmed and challenged during this event. I learned leadership is not just having people follow but rather empowering people to speak up and speak out. The students around me had bright ideas and opinions that sometimes just needed a safe and open space to be heard. My most life changing example of this was on the third day when I, among others, took on the role of moderator in a group discussion about our nation’s current situation. Rather than leading in the “traditional” sense, my sole purposes were to facilitate conversation, ask neutral questions to further the dialogue, and help students discover their own voices. I had no idea the profound impact this could have until, during one of the discussions I was moderating, a student in the group stated she “never knew how passionately she felt about national issues”. This single discovery and leadership moment made the conference worth every second of missed school and makeup work. I had made an impact and perhaps more importantly, so had she.
Over the course of the weekend I had the honor of having this same effect on many of the other students that I met and found that my leadership style lends well to a multitude of groups and environments. My goal was to help those around me, but little did I know how this experience and the people I encountered would have such a profound impact on me.
What impact has the DAYLC and TMOT experience had on you (and your leadership)?
DAYLC and TMOT completely changed me both as a person and as a leader. Throughout my life, I have always been identified as a leader but I never really understood why or what it meant. I struggled to understand why people thought I was “special”. Being exposed to other students who were equal in talent and ability finally made it clear. I learned that even in a group of leaders I have the ability to assess the skills and perspectives around me and motivate the group to become better than the sum of its parts.
Beyond this, I have learned how to lead and teach high caliber groups of students which is especially important for me this year. I will be traveling the country as an International Thespian Officer and will teach over 25 workshop sessions to students across the nation. My experiences and growth from DAYLC and TMOT have prepared me immensely for this next journey.
Overall, these experiences have served to instill in me a desire to be an agent for positive change. I have learned that while leadership takes on many faces and is demonstrated in many ways, at its core it has to be founded on a commitment to help and to give. It has instilled in me a desire to mentor the leaders of tomorrow and bring voice to those who might otherwise not be heard. DAYLC and the TMOT organization are doing incredible work to empower and prepare our world’s future leaders and I want to do the same for future generations. I have already spoken to the DAYLC board about staying involved with the process and giving back to their amazing program. My goal is to have a lasting positive impact on the people, and the world around me and through organizations like DAYLC and TMOT I am confident this goal will become a reality.