Reflecting on the RYLArian experience


Juniors Hailee Kessler and Karina Mara pose with a friend they met at the Rotary Youth Leadership Assembly in Blue Jay, California, on April 29.

Karina Mara

Chosen as one of the three students from Daniel Pearl Magnet High School to receive the Rotary Youth Leadership Award, I spent three days in a camp surrounded by nature, strangers and an aspiration to become a better leader.

Upon our arrival to Blue Jay, California, anxiety and excitement gushed inside me. After registration, a counselor gathered a group of us “RYLArians” into a circle for introductions. I realized that although I came with friends, juniors Hailee Kessler and Lauryn Uhlenberg, the groupings were randomized and socializing with someone unfamiliar was inevitable.

The purpose of RYLA is to further develop participants’ leadership skills through sessions with enlightening guest speakers and a series of outdoor and indoor group-based activities with students from all across California and some foreign-exchange students. The sessions focus on the “Four C’s”: compassion, communication, cooperation and creativity.

One thrilling activity was the group trust fall where members had to pull on each end of a black tarp to ensure the person falling off the ledge falls safely.

This activity revealed the need of the “Four C’s.” Compassion comes in for preventing injuries. The group needs communication to know if everything is set and cooperation is used because every member has to pull for steadiness. Creativity seemed pointless, but it wasn’t. Some members were tall so we had figure out the right adjustment and method to catch them.

On the first day, I engaged in several activities with my first group to begin our leadership quest. The following day I was assigned a different group to compete in the RYLA Olympics, where each group competed in sports-related activities. Chants and shouts to support each member were heard in every corner of the campground. The games were fun yet intense.

Numerous RYLArians signed up for RYLA Idol, showing their various talents ranging from piano skills to impressive dance moves.

Everyone supported each other throughout RYLA, which was the highlight of the whole experience. With smiles and encouragement everywhere, it made me feel empowered and confident in myself.

The three days I spent at RYLA felt like forever as I spent each moment gaining new knowledge, developing personally and meeting new friends. I’m glad I decided to join and ended up enjoying it more than I expected. RYLA is a once-in-a-lifetime experience but it’s an experience that lives on forever.