(Image courtesy of Nadia Chung)
La Cañada High School

My experience with HOBY online and 600+ young leaders on one Zoom call

The chat at the bottom of my screen exploded with greetings from sophomores all around California. Held live from the respective rooms of each ambassador — rather than the pre-pandemic site, Cal Poly Pomona — the Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership State Seminar commenced.

An organization dedicated to fostering the growth of passionate young leaders, HOBY was founded in 1958 to help young individuals contribute to and improve their communities. This virtual seminar has made it evident that after over 60 years, HOBY continues to exceed this foundational promise of providing an opportunity for students to reach their full potential as leaders.

Alternating between the main room and small group rooms, HOBY’s programming balanced the enthusiasm and energy of being in a 600+ person conference with the vulnerability and depth of a 13 person discussion.

Conversations in these small groups were initially focused on gaining familiarity with one another, as most of us did not know each other. However, our group discussions soon developed into an environment for self-reflection by identifying personal strengths and areas for growth.

Our group leaders posed questions that helped us differentiate between what we bring to a group and what we need others to bring to the group. The introspection expanded even further, delving into an exploration of what our passions are and where we want to see change in our community.

The dynamic within the small group I was a part of, group 20 (called “The California Rolls”), was one of immense mutual respect and trust. Despite only having met a few hours before, our group was already forming a unique bond.

In addition to personal leadership, the seminar included activities that developed group leadership skills. Tasked with creating a proposal for a school club in 20 minutes, our group practiced being receptive to every idea and building off of one another to eventually develop a mission statement and a list of potential events.

Collaborative leadership development continued through the task of solving a virtual escape room. This was certainly one of the most challenging yet exciting group activities.

As the clock ticked, how our individual strengths complemented one another to form a strong team became increasingly apparent. The puzzles within this activity were confusing and wouldn’t have been possible to solve without the contributions that every group member made.

During both days of the seminar, ambassadors had the opportunity to hear from and interact with several keynote speakers. The first speaker, Lamarr Womble, encouraged everyone to be “other-centered,” emphasizing that a leader’s responsibility is to serve the group. This concept carried through all the way to the end of the conference, where ambassadors were encouraged to complete a 100-hour service project, in the coming year. The project, serving as a culmination of everything this seminar has taught us, is an opportunity to act upon our passions and create change.

It’s difficult to imagine a two-day seminar having much of an impact but HOBY has an unparalleled ability to greatly impact everyone. Leadership is much more than a title or position, it is a journey that HOBY has been an integral part of shaping for its 500,000 alumni.

Our HOBY journey didn’t end when we clicked “leave meeting” and logged off of the zoom call, instead, we became part of a community dedicated to, as Hugh O’Brian envisioned it, “leadership, service and innovation.”