Student Leaders Benefit from Rotary’s RYLA Experience

Editor’s Note: Two of our SMA juniors, Kenna Mason and Hank Shirley, learned some valuable lessons in leadership at the Rotary Youth Leadership Award (RYLA) Conference Jan. 16-19 in New Braunfels. Sponsored by Rotary District 5840, the event recognizes outstanding youth and youth leaders. Kenna and Hank joined more than 175 other juniors at the conference, which was led by returning senior peer team leaders. Hands-on leadership workshops and other programs filled the weekend, along with food, snacks and entertainment. Read what these two SMA Bears had to say about their RYLA experience.

By McKenna Mason and Hank Shirley

RYLA was altogether an unforgettable experience. It is very hard to pick an aspect that was a particular highlight because the weekend was so bright for me. I suppose the one thing that I enjoyed and learned most from was the “Water Tower Project.” In this competition, each team was given a pack of spaghetti and a roll of tape to make the tallest and most supportive tower. My team communicated, led and completed the task efficiently enough for second place out of the eighteen teams. The creative and fun project taught me the delicate balance of collaboration and leading. Everyone has something to give to the goal, and it takes the right kind of leader to exploit those resources.

The biggest highlight of the conference for me was that RYLA focused on creating a strong, well-rounded leader, by encouraging not only intelligence, but the necessity of thinking and of staying active.

My biggest lesson learned at RYLA coincides with my previous answer. To be able to
include and lead an entire team with all equal parties will lead to a higher success rate
than having a segregated and unorganized crew. When we were tested on time and
difficulty, having everyone’s brain on the task proved to be the most productive.

My biggest take away from RYLA is that leaders come in all shapes and sizes and sometimes the best way to lead is just to listen to someone else.

One of the most inspiring sessions I had the privilege of experiencing was the one by Lu
Pochelski. The fact that she could intelligently speak to us for three entire hours struck
me, while also making an impact large enough that I can still remember exactly what
she taught us. It was an acronym for leadership rooted from WE CAN. It gave us
the five essential qualities of a prosperous leader. These included Wisdom, Enthusiasm,
Communication, Attitude, and Notice. Having the essential qualities in mind, will help
me improve my leadership tactics and decisions.

The most meaningful session to me was probably the low ropes course, because that is where they showed us that there will never be just one leader in a group and that to lead a group, the whole group matters.

The leadership camp was a giant conglomeration of amazingly intelligent, inspirational, and enthusiastic individuals. The opportunity to meet the many diversified people at RYLA was astounding and hopefully these connections will stay with me as I finish my last few years in high school.


Connecting with other RYLArians and the Team Leaders was easy and fun. Everyone was extremely friendly and accepting of each other, and I made many great friendships. This was a great networking event, because it encouraged bonding with people from all walks of life, from different communities, and with different ideas. I made new friends that I truly believe could last a lifetime.

Next year I aspire to be a Team Leader for this event. These “TL’s” (Team Leaders) run
RYLA completely on their own. They plan, construct, and follow through with everything
that goes on in the short weekend. To be a TL will give me the opportunity to showcase
the qualities I learned this year, and connect with many others.

In August we find out if we were chosen to be a TL (a team leader) and if we are, then we would meet with all the other TL’s once in August and once in November to discuss and plan for RYLA 2016. Then the Thursday before President’s Day weekend, we would head up to RYLA and set up for the weekend. We would be in charge of all aspects of RYLA including dorms, introducing and thanking speakers, and planning and leading groups and events. Being chosen would be a huge honor, one Kenna and I would both be happy and eager to accept.

I am so ecstatic to have been chosen to represent SMA at the leadership camp, and I
hope that I left as good of an impression for SMA as RYLA did for me.

RYLA is a great experience and I highly recommend it and the Rotary club to everyone.


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