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Jostens Leadership Conference inspires, motivates area students to better themselves

Jack Filkins, a student at Peninsula High School, lets out a cheer after guessing correctly during a mass game of heads or tails at the Jostens Leadership Conference at Gig Harbor High School.
Jack Filkins, a student at Peninsula High School, lets out a cheer after guessing correctly during a mass game of heads or tails at the Jostens Leadership Conference at Gig Harbor High School. jbessex@gateline.com

The energy generated by a large group of high school students is electric and infectious, filling the hallways and bouncing off the ceiling even in the early hours of a Friday morning.

This energy filled Gig Harbor High School Friday morning as leadership students from both GHHS and Peninsula High School welcomed more than 1,200 fellow high school students to the Jostens Leadership Conference.

Leadership students from more than 40 Pacific Northwest high schools attended the conference, which was co-hosted this year by GHHS and PHS, said Danielle O’Leary, the PHS ASB advisor.

The kids are the leaders here ... (they) have designed all of this. I could never do what these kids do with this technology. I’m just the person who has their back. We encourage their creativity and get out of their way.

Kelly Indahl, Gig Harbor High School ASB advisor

“This year we decided to co-host with GHHS,” she explained. “We chose the theme ‘Together as One’ to work together as a community.”

The two high schools frequently engage in a friendly (and sometimes not-so-friendly) rivalry, and the idea of co-hosting the conference was to highlight similarities between the two student bodies, O’Leary said.

She added that the organization of the conference was left to the leadership students, something that she and the GHHS ASB advisor, Kelly Indahl, agreed was important.

“The kids are the leaders here ... (they) have designed all of this,” Indahl said. “I could never do what these kids do with this technology. I’m just the person who has their back. We encourage their creativity and get out of their way.”

This focus on cooperation is important to the students as well, both in the Peninsula School District and with other local schools, according to Shafer Newton, 18, ASB president for PHS.

“I’m hoping to inspire people with our theme. It means a lot to our two schools,” he said. “I’m hoping to show people what good can come out of working together. I’m very proud of both our classes for the work they’ve done.”

The Jostens Leadership Conference is held annually to provide a chance for local high school student leaders to gather together to encourage one another and gather ideas that they can bring back to their own schools. During the conference, student leaders in grades nine to 12 participated in student-led breakout sessions where they shared ideas for assemblies, school events and community building ideas, along with hearing from keynote speakers and connecting with fellow students.

“It’s a good time to have the conference. It’s easy to have a lot of spirit at the beginning of the year, but by now the kids are often tired and overwhelmed by everything they have to do,” O’Leary explained. “It’s supposed to be inspirational ... our goal today is they can make a difference. They can do anything. They can have an impact.”

Making an impact and serving as leaders beyond their school boundaries is important to many of the students, said GHHS ASB president Baxter Hershman, 18.

“We felt that there’s a big divide in the country, especially as students. We just need to come together and have a hug,” he said. “We set a precedent that we don’t want negativity here. It’s made me a better person and I want to lead by example.”

Leading by example was a big message from the conference’s keynote speaker, Kevin Laue, who encouraged students to engage and step outside of their comfort zones to make an impact.

“Leadership is more than putting a poster on the wall. It’s more than an easy A. It’s more than cool conferences like this,” Laue said. “Being a leader isn’t an act. It’s not just when things are going well ... it’s all the time. If you guys can be leaders in high school, you’ll own it. The world is craving leaders. You are the future leaders.”

Indahl echoed Laue’s statement: “We’re trying to teach our kids to be good people and give back to the community. We want them to know they have an impact and can make a difference.”

The teamwork displayed by PHS and GHHS is an example of the cooperation that both ASB advisors wanted for their students, and something the students themselves are proud of as well.

“I think it’s really cool with leadership how together everyone gets with these things,” Newton said. “Everyone is coming hoping to better themselves and their schools.”

Hershman agreed: “It’s been a really cool experience, putting this all together and seeing something this big come together.”

Andrea Haffly: 253-358-4155, @gateway_andrea

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