MASON CITY — A Mason City High School student represented Iowa during an international leadership conference in Chicago this July.
Junior Elijah Warfield’s journey to the Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership World Leadership Congress (HOBY WLC) began at the end of his sophomore year, after being nominated as a class leader and writing a 200-word essay about rewarding and challenging aspects of community leadership.
Although he says he completed the assignment last-minute, the 16-year old junior has been developing his leadership skills since elementary school.
“I felt I’ve always stood out from others because I’m naturally inclined to take charge,” he said.
Following the essay contest, Warfield was one of two MCHS students selected to attend the HOBY Iowa conference. However, he was not sure what to expect during the three-day event, held at Central College in June.
“I came into it completely blind,” Warfield said. “I thought it would be boring, but it was anything but that.”
He joined 205 Iowa sophomores for the seminar, which emphasized critical thinking through keynote speakers, interactive panels and small-group discussions.
After hearing about the weeklong international WLC event, described as “HOBY on steroids,” Warfield was immediately interested — but deterred by the $1,650 cost.
To his surprise he was one of two ambassadors who received a partial WLC scholarship during closing ceremonies at the Iowa event. Scholarship selections were based on nominations, an essay and responses during a short interview.
In Warfield’s case, Iowa HOBY Leadership Seminar Chair Rachel Anderson said he was selected because of his ability to represent Iowa and his capacity to apply what he had learned.
“He showed outstanding leadership skills that were above and beyond the rest of the students who were interviewed,” Anderson said.
North Iowa Community Credit Union also provided Warfield with financial sponsorship.
In July, Warfield and 422 ambassadors from 15 countries converged on Loyola University’s Chicago campus for the international World Leadership Conference, themed #myHOBYstory.
“The main focus of the Congress was learning how to use social media for good, like organizing volunteer events, instead of something bad, like bullying,” Warfield explained.
Actor Hugh O’Brian, who conceptualized the sophomore leadership conferences following a nine-day African experience with medical missionary Dr. Albert Schweitzer in 1958, attended the closing gala where Warfield sang as a soloist and choir member.
Warfield said both HOBY events will have a lasting effect.
“The biggest thing I learned is not to pre-judge, but to keep an open mind and heart and to see both sides of an issue,” he said.
In school hallways an offhand joke about stereotype or race can be hurtful.
“Sometimes it’s funny and you might not think anything of it, but a lot of times you can see the pain in someone’s eyes,” Warfield said. “The biggest problem is kids being afraid to come to school because of that. We only have one opportunity to learn, so why take that away?”
He hopes to help make school a place where students are respectful of each other, learn to be successful and develop strong friendships.
MCHS counselor Karla Wymore, who encouraged Warfield to complete the initial entry essay, is pleased with his achievements this summer.
“It speaks highly of him and our school,” she said.
This school year, Warfield plans to be involved through student senate, the Gay-Straight Alliance, drama, speech, All-State Choir and Stebens Childrens Theater. He is also completing 100 volunteer hours, a requirement for future junior Iowa HOBY facilitators.
After graduating from college, Warfield aspires to be on Broadway or perform theater internationally.
His mother, Michelle, beamed.
“We are very proud of Elijah, who has accomplished a lot in 16 years,” she said.