I could have missed HOBY by less than a millimeter.
Or—I think it’s more accurate to say—I could have missed HOBY by less than a millisecond.
Had I not been paying attention to the PA announcements on that fateful school day in October, I wouldn’t have discovered a new way of living life. I wouldn’t have bumped into my comfort zones and challenged myself to surpass them. I wouldn’t have a second family I can count on thirty, forty years down the line.
That is what HOBY did for me. HOBY, which stands for Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership, is a non-profit organization that inspires and equips sophomores to change the world. That was practically the only thing I knew about HOBY before stepping onto the Chapman University campus where the HOBY SoCal seminar was held earlier this summer.
Teens only a year older than me lined the sides of the road, pointing us to registration. They were yelling chants with already busted lungs and looked so happy to give us directions even under the scorching sun. Bottom line was, I had no idea what I was getting into—and neither did my parents. Little did I know that when I’d return, I’d be exactly like one of those crazy, smiling, life-loving teens.
The first speaker was Scott Backovich. “Your time at HOBY starts whenever you let yourself go,” he said. “For some of you, it may have been when you walked on campus, or right now. For others, it may be tomorrow, or the very last day.” I looked around at the enthusiasm slowly building in the room and thought to myself, I want the experience to start now. I want to live freely. These people don’t know who I am. I can be whoever I want to be.
Through speakers, panels, structured leadership-building activities, and most importantly, group time with teens who would become my brothers and sisters, I learned to live in the present. I became vulnerable and trusted these people to be my life, long friends. Our SoCal HOBY theme was Agents of C.H.A.N.G.E., and the people I encountered were so passionate about changing the world–whether the issue was health, poverty, hunger, racial equality, etc.
We are creatures subject to the laws of inertia. An object at rest tends to stay at rest, and often we remain unchanged, untouched inside our comfortable bubble. But HOBY taught us that we possess more courage than we could ever imagine. An object in motion stays in motion, and once the first step of community service is taken, the fulfilling journey never ends. I’ve never seen so many teenagers genuinely interested in volunteering not for college credits but to make a difference.
I was given the amazing opportunity to continue my HOBY experience at the World Leadership Congress (WLC) in Chicago, where I became part of a family of 456 ambassadors from 11 different countries. We hit the ground running, making a direct impact in the city of Chicago. On day three, we headed out to Humboldt Park and painted fences, mulched trees, and picked up trash, saving the city $125,000 in paid labor. On day six, we teamed up with Feeding Children Everywhere and packaged more than 53,000 meals in one hour.
The speakers at WLC gave riveting speeches and moved many of us to tears. The lineup included Diane Latiker (founder of Kids Off The Block), Dave Gamache (founder of Character University), Suehaila Amen (All-American Muslim show), Lamarr Womble (founder of Passion for Leadership), and more. They opened our eyes to what we could accomplish and never took our age into account. They taught us the power of the ripple effect and showed us that anything is possible if we dare to embark on the outstanding journey of life.
The connections I made during those eight days at WLC will last me a lifetime. My roommate was from Beijing, China. My group section F4 consisted of people from Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York, Philadelphia, Ohio, Illinois, California, D.C., Mississippi, North Carolina, Texas, Washington, China and South Korea. Through lighthearted jokes, spirited cheering, and deep conversations, I’ve become a global citizen in the way my mindset has changed. I pay attention to the news, because I know people who live in Turkey, Hong Kong, Mexico, Canada, Philippines, France, Italy and Taiwan. Today I consider these people family because they’re along for the whole ride. HOBY alumni who met decades ago still keep in contact today. Whenever they travel around the world, they can always find WLC alumni to welcome them into their homes. My group leaders have switched from the role of facilitator to that of a life mentor, and my group F4 of the Red Squad will forever have a special, OUTSTANDING place in my heart.
My biggest fear leaving WLC was that my new self would retreat back into its musty old shell as soon as I reached home. After all, no one knew me at HOBY, but everyone knows me at home. This year’s motto, however, dispelled my fears. The theme was to Live HOBY, and our theme song was OneRepublic’s “I lived.” These lyrics express exactly what my life now means to me.
“I owned every second that
this world could give.
I saw so many places,
the things that I did.
With every broken bone,
I swear I lived.”
I suddenly don’t care what people think about me because I have 450 ambassadors’ complete love and support to fuel me through life. I am eternally grateful to how every single person I met made an impact on me, even in the smallest ways. HOBY moved me, and I will move the world.
Marcus Kelly, the 2015 WLC Chairman, put it best: “HOBY is a lifetime. You will take these experiences with you as you live. Every day you will experience moments to live HOBY. You will use the tools you learned here to impact the life of someone else… This is living HOBY.”
Ask your counselor about HOBY, an opportunity for sophomores.
For more information, check out http://www.hoby.org or reach out to any HOBY alum, including me!
HOBY SoCal: https://www.facebook.com/hobysocal?fref=ts