PLATTSBURGH — Kevin Wanzer believes in the power of a positive attitude and the ability to turn obstacles into opportunities.
“Things are only negative if you allow them to be negative,” the motivational speaker recently told nearly 150 high-school students at Clinton Community College for the 10th-annual Youth Leadership Conference.
The event, presented by the Clinton County Youth Bureau, Cornell Cooperative Extension, Eastern Adirondack Health Care Network and OneWorkSource, was designed to provide students with the skills needed to become leaders.
Wanzer, who has spoken to more than 3,000 audiences around the world, used humor and anecdotes to demonstrate the importance of being true to one’s self, looking out for others and, of course, remembering to laugh.
In addition, the keynote speaker stressed how people tend to have more in common than they often realize.
Wanzer asked everyone in the audience who was an only child to raise a hand. He then asked anyone who had ever walked out of a movie to do the same. And people who have procrastinated were also asked to identify themselves.
With each of the attributes Wanzer described, multiple students raised their hands.
“If we focus on what we have in common, than the differences don’t matter,” he said.
Children and pets, Wanzer noted, are great role models because they typically accept people for who they are without giving much thought to their differences.
Though people tend to become less accepting of each other’s differences as they become older, Wanzer added, it’s never too late to change that.
“How we treat others is a choice,” he said.
Following the presentation, Chazy Central Rural School sophomore Kayleigh Bell told the Press-Republican she found Wanzer’s ideas “eye opening,” especially those about children being so accepting of others.
“They don’t, like, judge people, and I thought that was really interesting, and I never really thought of that before,” she said.
Conference attendees were also invited to participate in three of 12 workshops on a diversity of topics, including bullying prevention, searching for employment, juggling responsibilities, kickboxing and surviving in the wilderness.
“The purpose of it is just to become better people,” Plattsburgh High School senior Amy Demane told the Press-Republican.
She and nine other area students, including Seton Catholic senior Alexis Persson and Peru Central School sophomore Matt Rine, comprised the conference’s Planning Committee.
“It’s just all about trying to find who you are so you can become a better leader,” Persson said.
Every high school in Clinton County was invited to send a number of students to the conference.
“What we’re trying to get the schools to do is (send) a wide diversity of the school population,” Demane said.
New at this year’s conference was a workshop titled, “Freshman Year Again?” presented by SUNY Plattsburgh Residence Director and Academic Coordinator Janis Noble. It included a panel of college students sharing their experiences on making the leap from high school to college.
“It’s primarily focused for seniors who are headed to college and what that transition will be like,” said Kim Crockett, Clinton County Youth Bureau supervisor.
‘EVERY WALL A DOOR’
Bell, a first-time attendee, signed up for “Applying to College for Dummies.”
Though college is still a couple of years away, she said, “I guess I’m kind of just worried about, like, applications and stuff.”
The conference also allows students from different schools to come together and meet new people, Demane noted.
“It’s just a great way to get out of the small little niche that you’ve built in your school,” Rine said.
He and his fellow Planning Committee members were responsible for organizing the event, choosing this year’s workshop topics and welcoming attendees to the conference.
“It really gives (committee members) some skills as far as not just organization and putting together an event of this size, but public-speaking skills,” Crockett said.
In addition, the Planning Committee came up with this year’s theme, “Every wall is a door,” a quote from American author Ralph Waldo Emerson.
“Basically, it’s about realizing that walls are there to make you realize how much you want something and that you can get through it,” Crockett said.
Email Ashleigh Livingston:email@example.com