-By Svetla Tomanova
Over the last year, a steering committee and students from Kempsville High School and other division schools worked diligently to “paint the way” for the 24th Virginia High School League Ken Tilley Student Leaders Conference. The theme of the conference was “Paint the Way.”
More than 400 high school students from 25 schools across the Commonwealth attended the conference, which was held during the last weekend of April. They came to practice their leadership skills, to learn from the experts and one another. Students gained new perspectives and ideas for how to lead effectively in their communities. They also came because they understand that “leadership matters.”
“Your voice and leadership matter,” said Superintendent Dr. Aaron Spence. “Leadership is not about the position you hold; it is about the power you possess inside you to love and care about the people. Everybody matters, everyone can make a difference.”
Spence ended his remarks with a quote from Lady Gaga: “Individual acts of bravery and compassion can change the world.”
The opening session rounded out with a keynote address delivered by Judson Laipply – a prominent speaker and the world’s first YouTube celebrity whose video “The Evolution of Dance” has over a billion impressions.
Combining comedy and content, laughter and learning, energy and engagement, Laipply gave the cheering audience both immediate joy and lasting impact. He helped students understand the difference between change and evolution while teaching them to embrace struggle, engage in choice and ultimately evolve. We grow and evolve most when we struggle, he said.
He offered insights into effective leadership, and motivated students to develop their own leadership skills.
“We live in a world that never stops changing,” Laipply said. “There are things you cannot plan for, but you will adjust. As leaders, we possess a singular ability that empowers us to exert influence over the things within our control, enabling us to shape the world we want to see. This ability is none other than the power of choice.”
Laipply also taught the students his infamous “Evolution of Dance.”
The theme guided the planning of the conference. Throughout the day, attendees immersed themselves in 30 breakout sessions that highlighted a wide range of topics, including world languages, mental health strategies, servant leadership, team culture building and leadership strategies. These sessions were taught by over 46 instructors from across the state.
“Leadership is a skill that can be developed and improved over time, and we hope that this was one of the key takeaways from the conference,” said Megahn Timlin, Kempsville Academy coordinator and a conference steering committee member.
Participants then moved to school rooms to participate in a service learning opportunity with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation where they learned how to make reusable grocery bags from old T-shirts.
“Our schools and communities need your ideas and leadership,” Kempsville Principal and Conference Chair Melissa George said. “Our sincere hope is that you will be inspired to take what you have learned today back to your school. Lead your school forward.”
The first in-person conference since 2019 ended with a school swag swap in the gym. The next conference is scheduled to take place at Blacksburg High School in November 2023.