Building a structure to demonstrate stability and work on peer communication. From L to R: Sarah Duong, Myla Sherron, Darby Napolitano, Layla Escobar. Photo provided courtesy of Loretta Cabuyadao.
As the sun was setting on an August evening over the picturesque shores of Newport Beach, Calif., the third annual SkillsUSA California Leadership Academy was just beginning. Seventeen students from 16 schools began a transformative three-day retreat designed to inspire young minds to ignite their leadership potential. The immersive experience seeks to cultivate leadership; foster growth; and instill the values of trust, stability, compassion and hope, qualities recognized by Gallup Inc. as the four most important qualities an effective leader should demonstrate and share. SkillsUSA’s “The Four Pillars” leadership guide shows student leaders how to incorporate those qualities into their own chapters.
Held for eighth- through tenth-grade SkillsUSA California students, this unique academy offers a platform for students to actively engage with core leadership principles through interactive activities, personal reflections and collaborative exercises. From the beginning, attendees understood this journey was about more than just gaining knowledge; it was about self-discovery and the personal pursuit of excellence.
The application process was competitive and required an advisor’s recommendation, along with a personal goal statement. Those selected were offered a full scholarship courtesy of the alumni community, a commitment to affordability ensuring the academy was accessible to all potential young leaders.
Over three days, participants were guided by SkillsUSA California staff who shared their expertise and inspired the students to tap into their unique potential. Student Layla Escobar summed up the experience saying, “This was a life-changing experience that taught me a lot about how to be a leader and about myself.” Escobar’s enthusiasm echoes the sentiments shared by all attendees who left the academy with a renewed sense of purpose.
The curriculum was carefully designed to address the Four Pillars of Leadership, with workshops and discussions on each pillar. Participants engaged in activities that put each principle into practice in real-world scenarios. Then, students created and presented their own leadership activities, which created a stronger sense of ownership and empowerment. The culminating event was the graduation ceremony, where each student received a certificate of completion. Recognition was given to those members who exemplified outstanding leadership in each of the Four Pillars.
Entrepreneur High School student Serenity Saterfield was honored with the Future Leader Award and the Founders Award. Chosen by her peers and endorsed by the staff, Serenity’s deep understanding of the Four Pillars set her apart as an example of what the academy was designed to achieve.
Escobar’s advice to future academy participants resonated with what the experience could do for each member: “Don’t let this opportunity pass you by. Be yourself in order to know yourself. In a room full of leaders, know what leader you are and what leader you want to be. You’re not here by coincidence. You’re here because someone sought you to be a leader even if you don’t think you are.”
As each student returned home with new insights and skills, they also carried with them the responsibility to enact positive change in their chapters and communities. To see the recap video and a list of 2023 graduates, visit the SkillsUSA California website.