Creating Community at the Quaker Youth Leadership Conference

On Thursday, February 4, 2021 one hundred and fifty students and teachers from twenty-five Friends high schools from the US and Canada gathered virtually to participate in the 2021 Quaker Youth Leadership Conference (QYLC) hosted by Friends Select School. Each school sends six students and two teachers to the annual conference.

QYLC spans three days and two nights and activities this year focused on the theme, “Staying Proximate, Staying Progressive, Staying Positive.” There were multiple meetings for worship, service activities, keynote speakers, student workshops, a talent show, and a variety of social activities. George School students included Faith Fuller ’23, Margee Joshi ’21, Finn Pollard ’21, Emaline Brangan ’21, Hyatt Sparks-Woodford ’22, and Isabella (Bella) Storie ’21. The teachers participating were Kathleen O’Neal and Tom Hoopes.

After the event, we asked the students several questions. Some of their answers are here.

Q. Why did you say “yes” to the invitation to participate in QYLC?

A. Because I have a wonderful experience last year at the conference.

A. I have really been enjoying attending online events during quarantine because it allows me to make new friends while staying safe. I said yes because I wanted to learn more about Quaker traditions and to meet new friends.

A. I enjoy the community with GS participants and other Friends schools.

Q. What were your general impressions of this conference?

A. I found it to be very welcoming and accepting of all and it was a great way to reflect upon some of the important issues around us.

A. FSS did an excellent job with a virtual format!

A. This conference was by far one of the most amazing experiences I’ve ever had. I felt a sense of friendship and community with everyone there. It had only been a three-day conference, but all the participants have made such an impact on my life and I consider them to be like family.

I am incredibly impressed by the students and faculty at FSS and how they managed to create this comfortable environment on zoom. They welcomed everyone and made it a safe place to be. Immediately after leaving the last zoom call, I felt like something was missing because I had become so attached to the conference and everyone there. If anyone has the chance to attend QYLC I would tell them that it is an experience like no other and an opportunity that should not be missed.

At the end of the conference, I was thinking of ways I could stay in contact with the people I’ve met and try to create that community again, but I knew that it wasn’t possible. QYLC creates an energy that cannot be reproduced or imitated. It is something so special and unique that I feel unable to explain it in a way that could completely capture what it was like being a part of it.

Q. What is one other Friends school that you learned about, and that you would be interested in visiting someday?

A. Quite frankly all of them. I even warmed up to Westtown during this conference.

A. I learned about the Friends school from Palestine. I attended their workshop on Palestinian life and got to meet friends from across the world. I invited them to GS’s online Model United Nations conference and I look forward to staying in contact with the students.

A. BHS — I read a lot about this school in Lebanon on their website after meeting Kelly.

Q. What is one specific experience that was particularly meaningful and impactful for you? Tell a story about it!

A. I was very moved by Ernest Owens’ words. (Ernest Owens is an award-winning journalist and CEO of Ernest Media Empire. ) Especially when he was talking about sacrifice and how it is a privilege to be able to sacrifice something because some people don’t have a choice but to sacrifice. Also, we discussed snakes in the family groups, which was very funny.

A. I enjoyed the talkative nature of the entire group and want to try new things to bring that to my classes.

A. One of my favorite experiences was on the first day. The students were sent into breakout rooms to socialize with each other as we would if the conference was in person. At this point, I was still nervous about the conference and I was not sure what to expect. When I entered the first breakout room, I was surprised by how welcoming everyone was and by how I felt most myself and comfortable with people I just met. My group discussed pasta shapes, cereal, and many other completely random things during our conversation. This experience was important to me because that is when I first understood why people were so excited about being at the conference. It was the first of many experiences I had over the course of three days where I looked forward to talking to new people and making new friends; even through zoom.

Q. What is one specific commitment, plan, or inspiration you are taking away from this experience?

A. I am inspired to take climate action and make a change.

A. Ernest Owens made a big impact on me in the panel and I have a new, deeper desire to walk the walk of anti-racism work, rather than just talk the talk.

Q. What is one specific thing you learned or picked up at QYLC that you would like to bring back to George School?

A. I learned that working for and with your community is very important and I would like to bring that back to GS and my community in India.

A. Well, I think for me personally I really want to encourage student leadership differently in my classes. I have talked with my students about this in the past and some were reluctant but seeing the students at FSS made me realize I can do more. I would also love to have Ernest Owens as an assembly speaker!

A. One thing I’d like to bring back to GS is making time for pointless, childlike conversation. I think this could be of value to my peers because I feel that GS is a place where we have one serious conversation after the next and it can be emotionally exhausting. I think many students are under the impression that we need to have meaningful conversations to build community. While that is true to an extent, QYLC has led me to understand the value of being able to speak about whatever is on one’s mind without feeling like it’s a competition or that they may be judged for what they say. It would create a space where students of all grades and backgrounds can meet and share with one another and appreciate each other.

Q. Is there anything else you want to share?

A. At the beginning of the conference when we weren’t sure if we should go through our list of intros, Tom told us that we didn’t really need to follow the rules at this conference. At first, I was so confused because I didn’t understand why we should risk messing up the structure of the intros but now I understand what he meant! This conference was anything but ordinary and welcomed creativity and encouraged people to be themselves. I had an amazing time.



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