When my peers voted for me to be the “captain for a day” of the tall ship Amistad during my first GYLI experience, I was a fidgety fifteen-year old who generally thought of a “leader” as someone else: someone more famous, more powerful, or at least older than me. During that day, even though the ship mostly ran itself, I had the chance to see myself as this other thing—a leader—and it grew on me. This experience changed my understanding of myself and what I was capable of.
Like sea legs, the only way to get comfortable with leadership is to experience it first hand. Call it leadership legs. This is why GYLI’s twin commitments to youth leadership development and experiential learning complement each other: in order for young people to see themselves as leaders, they have to realize that they already are leaders. Empowerment is cycle of action and reflection.
Flash forward to when I coordinated the AYLP program: now twenty years old and a rising junior at Oberlin, I shared the responsibility to keep track of 40 high school students traveling in Costa Rica and Panama for a month. This was as far outside of my comfort zone as I had ever been on a GYLI program. I grew so much from experiencing the discomfort of that responsibility, and from reflecting on my countless rookie mistakes.
“Leadership Legs” means that challenges and failures, well digested, are empowering. After Coordinating AYLP, I felt like I could handle anything if I had the support I needed from colleagues, family, friends, and mentors.
It is this sense of empowerment through community support that kept me coming back to GYLI as a student, intern, and coordinator, and why I joined the 20-30 Leadership Council this spring. After eight years, I’m still not tired of learning from the organization that taught me to fail well and then ask questions.
— David Tisel (GYLI class of 2009)