Over the summer, Harker juniors Divija Bhimaraju, Emily Chen, Peter Connors and Sameep Mangat spent a few days at the annual Hugh O’Brian Youth (HOBY) Leadership Seminar. These events, held throughout the country, are designed to help high school students build leadership skills through various activities. Students attend the seminars after being nominated by their school.
One of Chen’s favorite activities was an ice cream-themed game that demonstrated societal class structure. Teams were separated into three different “flavors” and planned cities with resources provided to them. The purpose of the exercise was to show how social change was necessary to curb social stratification.
“Strawberry members were allowed to play loose with the rules without fear of punishment and were provided with the best building materials and media presence; Mint was treated averagely throughout the entire game; and Vanilla was thoroughly abused,” Chen recalled. “Vanilla members frequently went to ‘jail’ for transgressions such as wearing denim, talking too loudly, talking too quietly and pretty much for existing. The media demonized Vanilla as much as it lauded Strawberry.”
Mangat particularly enjoyed the HOBY Hugs activity, in which attendees exchange gifts of candy and nice messages. “The message usually is [about] how that person impacted you in a positive way, and how much you appreciate their friendship,” she said. “Reading those in the car ride home put a smile on my face as I sobbed. I didn’t expect for these people to impact me in such a strong way, yet when I left, I could feel the loss deep in my heart.”
Another highlight was the appearance by speaker Jamie Utt, a highly regarded presenter on diversity and inclusion, who spoke about “breaking down walls of negativity and how we’ve become socially conditioned to view people and constructs in pejorative manners,” said Chen. “Jamie gave a charged speech following a powerful activity about internalization of prejudice and what we can do to combat systemic antagonism.”
Chen and Mangat both enthusiastically recommended that students attend a HOBY seminar if given the opportunity. “It’s a life-changing experience, and there’s no other way I can put it,” Mangat said. “The people that you meet, the interactions that you have, and the lessons that you learn change the way that you view the world around you and it re-energizes you in a way that nothing else ever could.”
The team members Chen met and bonded with at the event helped make the event special for her. “They’ll have your back, because this is a diverse collection of the region’s future leaders, and you’ll learn so much about humanity and the difference youth can make in the present and in the future.”