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Extension > Youth Development Insight > Youth: I think we all need a 'thank-you' speech

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Youth: I think we all need a 'thank-you' speech


Do we pay enough attention to youth voice? During the busy summer months and as we wrap up our program year, youth voice is easy to neglect. I'd like to give voice in this blog to a young person - my daughter, Kati - as she reflects on the completion of high school, her involvement in youth programs, and the role of caring non-parental adults  in her success. She's a recent graduate of Fridley High School and the Minnesota 4-H program. She will soon be attending the University of Missouri and majoring in journalism.

I think we all need a 'Thank You' speech


The end of any major life commitment creates a moment to look back at past months or years and ask, "What have I done that has made me a better person than I was yesterday?  Even more importantly, what influenced how and why I did those things?"

I'm a recent high school graduate and I’m asking these questions. I've had a successful career as a student and leader in my school. My family likes to joke that I was “president of everything.” I tackled rigorous academic courses and communicated daily with peers, teachers and administrators. I now have a summer job working in youth development. It’s a logical progression -- all the skills I learned have prepared me to work as a parks and recreation leader this summer.

Yet spending seven hours a day programming for kids is hard if you’ve never been taught how to interact with youth. Without the examples set by the mentors in my life while growing up, I wouldn’t be successful at my job. For example, in 4-H Arts-In, an intensive two-week singing, dancing and acting experience for 4‑H'ers in Anoka County, teen leaders taught me skills I continue to use every day at my job. They built my skills and confidence by involving me in games, encouraging me to try out for solos and inviting me to lead small groups of younger youth.

But I never properly thanked them. That is what my 18-year-old self is contemplating.

The first time I heard Kid President’s “I think we all need a pep talk,” I was a freshman in high school. I think Kid President makes a valid point-everyone needs a little encouragement, to re-inspire themselves and find “something worth dancing for.”  Yet I also think we should take that concept a step further. Not only does everyone need encouragement, they also need validation.

Validation is sometimes hard to come by when working with young people who may not realize for another decade the impact you have on their life.

So I propose that each of us needs to both give and receive a “Thank You” speech -- one that comes from every person we've ever worked with, who feels our presence and influence has guided them onto their current path. And another to give to every person we’ve ever learned from and who we feel has taught us how to be a leader in our world.

Mine would start with an address to those youth leaders who helped me to be successful professionally and made me a better person than the one I was yesterday. I include my Key Club advisor, who taught me how to be crazy while serving people with my whole heart. It would include my 4-H club leader, who inspired me to actively take control while retaining a compassionate spirit. And there are so many more.

Whether someone changed your life 50 years ago or five, I invite you to reach out to them; to reconnect. Tell them what they mean to you, how they have inspired your career and continue to influence your work all these years later. Who knows, maybe 10 years from now, someone will approach you to thank you for changing their life.

Who would you address your "thank you" speech to? Who has made you a better person?

-- Anne Stevenson, Extension educator and Extension professor

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2 comments:

  1. Thank you, Katy for taking the time to reflect on the role a caring adult in 4-H has played in your leadership development. You'll have to report back as you venture off into college and let us know where you've felt the influence of these adults guide you as you take on more responsibilities and venture, engage in more challenging school work, and are faced with increasingly challenging life decisions. Thank you for sharing.

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    1. Thank you for your comment, Joanna! I've been at college for a week already, and while I haven't started classes yet, I can tell you that I've already seen the influence of the past adults in my life working. I spent my first Saturday in college doing community service work; I got up at 8 a.m. in order to pick up litter on the side of a Columbia highway. The values of service and leadership that my Key Club advisor taught me encouraged me to take part in this Step Forward Day. Not many college students can say they served others within their first week! I also am continually influenced by my past 4-H leaders as I look for jobs/work study on campus. Right now, I've applied to work as an elementary school student tutor, a job I wouldn't have thought about if I hadn't realized what a big impact young adults can have on the lives of little kids through 4-H. I start classes soon, so I will continue to share as adults continue to influence me!

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