Youth mentors aiming to strike a nerve among a gathering of high school students last week spoke and performed exercises about how leadership can impact their lives and those of classmates, colleagues and complete strangers.

About 140 high school students took part Thursday in the city of Surprise’s third annual Youth Leadership Summit at City Hall and the Communiversity. Officials attempted to shed the stigma about how leadership can be considered only for intellectuals and that stepping outside your comfort zone can lead teens to conclude that leadership can be something worthwhile.

In addition, the event aimed to reach teens at a young age in order for them to see what opportunities exist to better themselves personally and professionally, said Donna Miller, a division manager in the Community and Recreation Services Department.

Miller said those wishing to pursue leadership opportunities can then take part in the city’s leadership academy called the Teen Advisory Board, which makes citywide decisions affecting area youth. About 40 students are part of the advisory board this year.

“There’s a quote that I live by that says, ‘If you can dream it, then you can achieve it,’” said keynote speaker Scott Backovich. “Your dreams are as real as the actions that follow them.”

Backovich, a 22-year-old recent college graduate, tours the country in the hopes of breaking teens out of their shells to step to the plate and be leaders in their school and community.

His approach is designed to inspire those who need an extra push, while keeping doubters interested and engaged.

“Your baggage doesn’t define you, but rather your actions and persistence to want to create change,” Backovich said.

After hearing Backovich speak, the students from the Dysart Unified School District and area charter schools took part in various exercises aimed at testing their leadership skills, as well as exposing personality traits they might not realize they had.

Valley Vista High School student Jack Hastings said one of the exercises reminded him of lessons learned in the classroom.“The teachers expect a lot out of us,” he said. “We constantly have to step up and meet challenges.”

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