I met Charles Runnels for the first time when I was walking through the cafeteria during the Youth Citizenship Seminar at Pepperdine University. After being recommended to the director, I was accepted into the 5 day program designed by Mr. Runnels to enhance your potential as a leader and increase your dedication as an informed citizen of the United States. It asks you to dream big, to dream the impossible dream, and helps you understand how to turn your dreams into reality. YCS was a truly unique experience that has had the greatest impact on my life.
I attended the 38th annual Youth Citizenship Seminar in June 2015. On the first day, the 250 incoming seniors were shuffled into Smother’s Auditorium while they blasted, “Best Day Of My Life” from the speakers. We were introduced to the director, given our schedules, our breakout groups, and were reminded that YCS is what you make of it. No one and nothing can make an impact on your life unless you let it. I had every intention to let YCS change my life, and it did.
Where I come from, it’s cool to be unhappy. It’s cool to hate your school, your teachers, and your life. Pessimism flourishes here. It feels like everyone’s disappointed at all times and I often find myself feeling drained when I come home from a school day full of people complaining about how they’re victims of unfortunate circumstance. In La Cañada, there’s an overwhelming majority of students who stay up until 3 AM to finish the homework they have from their 5 AP classes. No one seems to care what you want to do with your life unless you got an A on your AP Biology test. You’re not a personality, you’re a GPA and a test score. You’re not a person, you’re a straight A robot. I don’t know how long it’s been here, but the functional fixedness that lives on our campus is toxic.
Until June 2015, I thought the world was like this. I thought that it was normal for your peers to make you felt guilty if you didn’t have more homework than you could handle in one day. I was under the impression that you didn’t care enough about academics if you weren’t pulling all-nighters once a week to ensure you knew all 80 of your AP Calculus formulas. In La Cañada, life felt like we were all swimming against a current. I was sure that it was impossible to be happy being a high school student.
But I was wrong.
Mr. Runnels helped me realize that happiness is a mindset, that you can either cry about the Diet Coke sprayed all over you on the first day of camp, or you can laugh about it.
At YCS, I was reminded that, yes, life can be difficult, but surviving and thriving is truly about how you think. Optimism is earned by overcoming obstacles. You’ve gotten through each bad day you’ve had, and everyday prepares you for tomorrow. In reality, disappointment will always be a part of life; sometimes you’re the bug and sometimes you’re the windshield. Failure is not about how many times you’ve failed, it’s how you handle it. Life is not what happens to you, it’s what you do about it.
I was reminded that success is a daily progression and a journey, not a destination. Success is evolving, continuing to evolve, coming up with new ideas, and always seeking improvement. No one should dwell on who their grandparents were, they should care about who their grandchildren will be.
YCS was all about finding your purpose and serving the world. Focus on happiness and goodness, work to help the bad. For a very long time, I thought I was just a “stupid teenager,” but I’m not. I’m a functioning member of society and just because I’ve never lived on my own, doesn’t mean I’m not old enough to see what’s working for me and what isn’t. I can make an impact, so no one should try to limit my boundaries.
Until June 2015, I was the teenager who thought the world was against me, but now I know that the world is by my side. I no longer feel like I’m swimming against a current and I know for a fact that it’s not impossible to be a happy high school student.
After the banquet on the last night of YCS, I had a conversation with Mr. Runnels that I will never forget. Emotional after an amazing week and moving closing ceremony, I told Mr. Runnels all of my future plans. I explained how I’ve always been passionate about my future, but now I was even more motivated to turn my dreams into reality. After some tears and pictures, I thanked him. From the counselors, to the participants, to the speakers, Charles Runnels created a community of the most supportive people I’ve ever experienced.
When Fr. Arrupe said “our prime educational objective must be to form men and women for others, who believe that a love of self or of God which does not issue forth in justice for the least of their neighbors is a farce” he meant that it’s hard to change the world, but if you can change someone's, you’ve given them the greatest gift you can offer. Mr. Runnels turned his own dream into reality by developing a program that has changed 250 incoming seniors’ worlds every summer for 38 years. The best people in your life are the ones who believe you have something great inside you and challenge you to prove it to yourself. Even if I accomplish everything I plan on doing, I could only hope that someday I’m a fraction of how great Charles Runnels is.