Life offers tough learning lessons
If you invite more than 2,000 teenagers to learn about leading, sometimes the lessons offered are tough to hear. But listen they did, when Craig Scott took the podium at the 13th annual Leaders in Life Youth Conference held on March 15 at the Rabobank Convention Center in Bakersfield. The theme of the event was “Can You Hear Our Rising Voices?” Ironically, Scott was the voice for someone who will never be heard from again, his sister, Rachel Scott, the first student killed during the 1999 Columbine High School shootings in Littleton, CO. Craig and his family in the outcome of that tragedy started “Rachel’s Challenge.” They appear at schools around the nation with a message that bullying can be overcome with kindness.
“What you focus on you give power to,” Scott told the conference teens, who ranged in age from 13-18. “The shooters who took my sister’s life found everything wrong with this world and focused on it. My sister focused on the positive. She chose to look for the good in people and recognized her blessings. If there is a culture filled with caring and compassion, there’s no room for bullying. We can eliminate bullying by creating an atmosphere of kindness.”
How did Scott come to be a speaker at the conference? It was all the idea of students who each year plan the conference for students with issues and topics relevant to them. Students from middle and high schools all over Kern County met for six months planning the conference, every aspect of it from picking the speakers and vendors, budgeting the costs, selling the tickets, figuring out what to cater for lunch, and planning the workshops and the topics for those workshops.
Student Kooper Thomas from Golden Valley High School was on the speakers and workshops subcommittee that decided to invite Scott to speak.
“It’s surprising to see how many kids are bullied,” Thomas said. “They don’t think it will affect their campus, but statistics show that many have friends who are bullied but don’t say anything. It is a shock to see how fast it has grown and risen to the surface.”
Students do not just randomly get together at a pizza parlor, whenever it suits them, to plan this conference. It is organized. Local businessman Morgan Clayton started it in 1999, when he saw how successful the Bakersfield Business Conference was for adults and wanted the same for teenagers. Many businesses and organizations donate time, supplies and revenue. The Kern County Superintendent of Schools’ School to Community Partnerships program provides support, mentoring students at each meeting on the various aspects of the leadership skills needed to put on a conference of this magnitude.
“It’s not just about prevention education,” said KCSOS Coordinator Jeff Coomber. “The conference features information about colleges and careers. We take our planning committee through a six month planning process and help them develop leadership skills, confidence and grow their speaking, communication and organizational planning skills.”
What Coomber said about information was pretty obvious once you stepped into any of the conference rooms where a workshop was taking place. You could also see it on the stage of the convention center where dozens of vendors had set up booths to sell students on concepts, lifestyles and education, rather than products.
“Even a person like me at a young age can do something really big and make a difference,” said East Bakersfield High student Takarra Smith. “Conference’s like this show people do care more and that no matter how old you are, your words matter.”