Once in a while, life gives us an opportunity to re-evaluate our mindset, think bigger, dive deeper into multiple perspectives, and learn life-changing skills that we’ll carry with us forever. For me, this opportunity came at NASSP’s LEAD Spark Conference in January 2023.  

David Arowolo, far right, enjoys his time at LEAD 2023. 

Last year I was elected second vice president of the Maryland Association of Student Councils, and one of the opportunities I had was to attend LEAD. My fellow officers and I, along with a few executive board members, made the trip to Crystal City, VA, to attend the conference. When we arrived, I was looking forward to meeting multiple student leaders across the country. I didn’t know this conference would prove to be such an eye-opening experience and that it would impact my approach to education and leadership.  

The first evening began with an amazing introduction from our emcees and conference organizers. We then played multiple interactive games and moved into assigned groups for our workshops. Although this meant that the group that I came with was splitting apart, I was eager to meet and connect with more delegates at the conference. 

I was assigned to a group of middle schoolers with delegates from Puerto Rico, Guam, New York, and Virginia. We discussed ways to keep our student councils and honor societies more active and engaging, brainstormed volunteer opportunities to help our communities and schools, and formed incredible bonds that lasted throughout the conference. 

The next day began with a lovely breakfast and two excellent speakers: the actress Torrey DeVitto and Sanah Jivani, the founder and CEO of the Love Your Natural Self Foundation, both of whom inspired us with their stories. We later moved into multiple deep dive sessions and workshops on amplifying student voice, leading through service, building connections, and expanding leadership skills. Then we ended the day with the amazing keynote speaker Lori L. Hayes, who interacted with us throughout her presentation, expanded my thinking, and encouraged me to build my self-confidence and create genuine relationships. 

Finally, our last day at LEAD arrived. We began packing our bags up and saying goodbye to our hotel rooms. And even if we thought it was over, the conference had something more in store for us. Once again and for the last time, we heard an amazing speech by Carlos Ojeda, titled “Vete Go!” He shared his experiences as a young student with no one who believed in him. But just one encounter with an amazing counselor changed the course of his life. His story shifted my point of view and made me believe it’s not over until you want it to be. 

Looking back almost a year later, I am now serving on the LEAD Student Advisory Council for the LEAD National Student Leadership Conferences this school year. I have grown and changed a lot; this wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t attended LEAD. I learned so many public speaking skills, how to be an effective leader, and how to connect and form genuine relationships. This conference is truly life-changing, and I believe every student leader across America should attend.  

Learn more and sign up at lead.nassp.org/

About the Author

David Arowolo is a ninth grader at Eastern Technical High School in Essex, MD, and former second vice president of the Maryland Association of Student Councils.

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