Education feature: Ready to step into leadership

CNJ staff photo: Liliana Castillo Ryan Strong of Clovis,14, is hoping his second youth leadership conference in Boston will be as life-changing as the first in Washington, D.C.

By Liliana Castillo: CNJ staff writer

Ryan Strong divides his life into three sections. Before his first Congressional Youth Leadership Council conference, during, and after.

Strong, who is heading into the ninth grade at the CHS Freshman Academy, said the emotions he felt while learning about the country’s history in Washington, D.C. a year ago, particularly at the war memorials, changed his life.

“People and textbooks can only tell you so much. When you’re there, in the footsteps of the leaders that made our country, you don’t feel like yourself. And to see the memorials and all those names. My heart got heavy,” he said. “It’s burned in my head.”

With his father in the Army National Guard, his uncle in the Army and his grandfather being retired Air Force, Strong’s family has a strong military background. He is thinking about going to the United States Military Academy at West Point, playing professional football or working as a weapons engineer.

“I don’t know what I want to do yet. But I know this kind of thing will help me be a leader no matter what I go into,” the 14-year-old said. “(These conferences) will help me see how else I can better myself.”

The CYLC conference in D.C. was the first of many for Ryan, Strong’s mother, Lisa Stallings said. He will be attending the Junior National Young Leaders Conference Alumni Boston conference the first week in July.

“I don’t know what to expect. But I can’t wait for the new experience,” Strong said.

According to CYLC, 250 middle-school students from the across the country will take part in the conference. The students will visit Boston, Plymouth and Salem and study the historical sites of the cities during the day and study leadership skills during classes each evening.

Strong said his grandfather, Wade VanHoose, taught him about leadership, usually through acronyms.

“This opportunity is valuable for him,” his grandfather said. “It teaches him how to be R.E.A.L. It’ll teach him how to create good relationships, how to equip himself, a good attitude and leadership.”

VanHoose said teaching Strong how to equip himself for adversity is also important.

“When adversity comes his way, he’ll know what to do. Most failures in life are from failing in times of adversity. I’ve known men who are doing great, and them crumble at the first wrinkle. Education is one thing, but you have to know how to stand strong. He can’t lead others without first leading himself.”