The following is the transcript of a speech given by Elijah Leutwyler during his graduation from Leadership Youth at the Executive Leadership Council luncheon. In it, Elijah reflects on his Leadership Youth journey, including his board service for the Salem Keizer Education Foundation.
Junior and Senior year of high school hit like a bus. Strike that, more like a train: over and over, freight after heavy freight. From hectic class schedules to an abundance of extracurriculars such as volunteering or sporting events, optimism during these last four semesters seemed ever elusive or—at the very least—in short supply. It became apparent very early on that this was the time in life that Forrest Gump warns us is like a box of chocolates: you never know what you’re gonna get. The Leadership Youth program, however, has done wonders to liven up my outlook in the midst of all the drudgery.
While we might never know the exact circumstances of our future, we always have a choice in how we respond to each specific situation. Whether our choice manifested itself in the gifts we gave to the Seniors at the Applewood Retirement Community, animated our passion for the speeches delivered for the Public Speaking activity, or expressed itself when we spouted creative (albeit mostly impractical) advertising strategies marketing a new product, the choice was always in our hands. The consequences for every decision, not a moment behind. We choose who our future selves will be, one intentional action at a time.
It strikes me as slightly paradoxical and very ironic that a homeschool student such as myself would become an ardent enthusiast for the education systems in our Western world. Knowing this now, I was grateful to serve on a board closely related to those convictions. The Salem Keizer Education Foundation, otherwise known as SKEF, is a powerful proponent for primary and secondary education in our community. Hosting a wide array of events ranging from recognizing influential teachers with the Crystal Apple Awards to energizing the next generation with Back to School Lunches and the Awesome 3000, SKEF truly makes a positive impact in this community. Being even a small part of those operations, I am incredibly grateful.
The last facet of the Leadership Youth program to which I owe my gratitude lies in how it has fueled my thought life. After over 12 years of learning through more or less rote memorization (and perhaps more to come), it is refreshing to be taught how to think more effectively and independently rather than what to think on any given subject. Our Leadership Youth Programs days were often filled with lectures that had immediate practical application; I eagerly welcomed this change of teaching style.
Looking back, Junior and Senior years have been full of so much self-discovery, even if it came at unpredictable, inconvenient times. I have learned that I am not simply a product of circumstance, but of painstaking conscious decision-making as well. I realized more fully that our public and private education does not rest solely on teachers and principals, but on every parent and volunteer involved. But most importantly, I have learned through these past two years, that whatever we do, we do as a community. For better, or for worse. So I will give my greatest effort to mold myself into a leader of whatever community I settle into; I will be an authentic optimist. And I hope that as a community, you will join me in this effort.