Becoming #FutureProof: GEAR UP Student Leaders Embrace National Conference

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Each year, the annual GEAR UP Youth Leadership Conference brings together GEAR UP students from around the country in an opportunity to engage with each other, learn from their shared experiences and gain an insight to overcoming the challenges that come with preparing for college. Armed with this knowledge, GEAR UP Youth Leaders return to their schools as an example of how to build a college-going culture, showing classmates how everyone can succeed.

Sioux City High School student Rylie Maliszewski served as one of Iowa’s GEAR UP Youth Leaders. Having returned recently from the conference, she shares her experience and the impact that participating has had on her college and educational outlook.

This past week I attended the GEAR UP Youth Leadership Conference in San Francisco, California. I was able to attend this conference thanks to my GEAR UP advisors and coordinators, my wonderful parents, and my mentor, Ms. Ford. Thanks to their hard work and my own, I met so many wonderful people and learned so many new skills that I will use forever. I am beyond grateful for this experience. I met many life long friends at the conference! Many of whom I have talked to everyday since the conference ended. I am so blessed to have been one of 150 students around the nation at this conference. Now that I am home, I want to reflect and share my amazing experience!

On the morning of July 16, my family and I woke up at 2 a.m. to head to Omaha. It was my first time flying and I was very nervous. Luckily, the flight was very smooth and our flight was about an hour shorter than they thought. The view was amazing and I even spotted a waterfall during the flight.

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This conference was different than many others.

About a month before the conference began a Facebook group was created. This gave us a chance to meet and engage with other students around the nation attending. A few weeks after a friend of mine created a messenger group, which allowed us all to be ourselves and not worry about being formal. Soon after I created a Snap Chat group which mainly had students who did not have Facebook on it so myself and a few other student could help spread important news! Later on we decided to do group video chats about once a week leading up to the conference. This first chat had about six to seven and our last chat had about 10 to 12.

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These video chats allowed us to put names to faces which I believed was really cool and, thanks to the Facebook and SnapChat groups, we all recognized each other as the conference began. It was absolutely amazing how close a lot of us were already without actually meeting in person. I even saw a few people before the conference even began.

The first night we did a lot of icebreakers. The following morning at breakfast we had an amazing plenary speaker, Hill Harper, who starred on “CSI: New York,” one of my favorite shows. He talked a lot about the importance of school systems, districts, officials and more, to listen to what the students need from the students and not from outside sources. His speech was truly amazing and very relatable. Monday we worked a lot on making a match between values and behaviors. We also worked on the importance of storytelling and learned the steps in telling a great story. We even had a singing battle.

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Tuesday came with a lot of fun. We learned about the importance of living “about the line” and also worked on creating our large presentation for the last breakfast plenary. I helped others make their story as best as it could be. Many worked on a skit and the “Show Me What You Got” box. At the end of the night we did a really amazing and touching activity involving our biggest fears and struggles in life and vowing to not let “them” bother us and get to us anymore. It was cool “breaking” my fear/struggle and watching others do the same.

Wednesday was a very sad day for many of us. I had made so many amazing friends from the social media groups and beyond. Our presentation was truly mesmerizing and I was so glad to be a part of it. All of us were so supportive of one another.

After our group presentation, we wrapped things up and said goodbye. During our goodbye and thank you to everyone, I don’t believe there was a dry eye in the room. Every day at this conference felt like a party, we had so many dance parties and battles. I truly am grateful for this experience and the opportunity to meet amazing lifelong friends I miss them all dearly and really hope we will be able to do a reunion soon. I can’t wait to see how my fellow attendees and I use the skills we learned and how our futures end up.

Thank you GEAR UP Iowa for this amazing experience, one that I will never forget. Thank you for allowing my Mom to go with me as well. Thanks to this conference, I am Future Proof! #GEARUPWorks #GUCon

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