Washington, D.C. – More than 300 students participated in Rep. Tom Graves’ (R-GA-14) fourth annual Youth Leadership Summit in Calhoun last Tuesday, October 17. The students were high school juniors and seniors from 19 schools from across the 14th Congressional District, each of whom was recommended by their teachers and school administrators.
As these students prepare to enter higher education or the workforce, the forum provided them with an opportunity to learn from and engage with Georgia leaders who represent industries and organizations ranging from military veterans to the food service industry.
Besides Rep. Graves, this year’s speakers included Georgia Tech’s State Relations Manager Casey Aultman, author and Chick-Fil-A franchisee Zach Thomas, 21st Century Leaders Program Director Asher Jones and Program Manager Nicole Meadows, and Marine Corps Staff Sergeant (Ret.) Johnny “Joey” Jones.
“At some point, you’ve maybe heard ‘you are the leaders of tomorrow.’ Hopefully you’ve heard that before, right? Well, I think you are the leaders of today,” Rep. Graves told the students when he kicked off the event. “Somebody saw something different in you and wanted you to be here today. So today, we are investing in you.”
The first speaker of the conference, Casey Aultman, emphasized this idea in her presentation saying, “I want to challenge you to not write anything off.” Urging students to think about themselves and to expand their minds about the opportunities ahead of them, Casey encouraged students to become leaders in their everyday lives.
Next, entrepreneur, published author and Rockmart Chick-Fil-A franchisee, Zach Thomas, gave a presentation on self-discovery. The Polk-County native explained, “When you discover the ‘why’ that gives you purpose and the ‘who’ that gives you meaning, you can do any ‘what,’ any ‘where.’”
Asher Roth and Nicole Meadows then inspired students to build foundations in their communities through service. Asher and Nicole lead an organization called 21st Century Leaders, which partners with businesses and professionals in order to guide students through career opportunities and provide them with the confidence and skills needed to succeed.
The last speaker of the day was a Dalton native and a hometown hero, Johnny “Joey” Jones, who served in the Marine Corps as an Explosive Ordnance Disposal technician. During his last deployment in Afghanistan, he stepped on an improvised explosive device and lost both of his legs. He spoke to the students about his recovery and how “it is our perspective on adversity that matters,” and stressed the value of investing one’s self in something that “doesn’t have an automatic return.”
Between presentations, students were encouraged to meet their peers and expand their networks. Breaking from the daily norms of the classroom, students were also encouraged to use their phones to take photos and post about the Summit on social media sites.
Using the hashtag #GA14YLS, the event generated significant engagement on social media sites, especially Instagram. One student posted a photo with the caption, “#GA14YLS was so good! Special thanks to these amazing speakers for inspiring us to make a difference!”
Another student wrote, “Had a fun time with these cool [students] I met at the Youth Leadership Summit today with Rep. Tom Graves!”
The students weren’t the only ones excited to participate. Joey Jones wrote on Instagram, “Humbled and excited to speak to this group of future leaders today. These young men and women will become valuable assets and fundamental leaders of their communities and our Country!”
Also participating in the Summit were thirteen student ambassadors from Sonoraville and Calhoun High Schools. The ambassadors served as all-purpose volunteers who arrived early to set up, assisted with the smooth operation of the event and stayed late to clean up.
The following schools participated in this year’s Youth Leadership Summit:
- Armuchee High School
- Calhoun High School
- Canaanland Christian School
- Chattooga High School
- Coahulla Creek High School
- Dade County High School
- Dalton High School
- Gordon Central High School
- Heritage High School
- LaFayette High School
- Morris Innovative School
- Murray County High School
- North Murray High School
- Northwest Whitfield High School
- Ridgeland High School
- Rockmart High School
- Southeast Whitfield High School
- Trion High School
- Unity Christian School