During the weekend of August 12-14, 2016, fifty JSA student leaders and six teacher advisors from across the country joined together in Los Gatos, California to deepen their understanding of JSA and soak in the mission of its founder, Professor Rogers, and hone their leadership skills. Having been invited by the governors and program directors, attendees of this year’s Montezuma Leadership Conference entered the weekend prepared to learn and headed home with a widened perspective and invigorated passion.
The Montezuma Leadership Conference opened with background and history of JSA and the mission of Professor Rogers. Student leaders and teachers began to understand the roots of the organization so close to their hearts and appreciate the legacy of Prof Rogers passed into their hands. Attendees then toured the campus of what was originally The Montezuma Ranch School for Boys and continued to acquire knowledge of the organization’s beginnings. They forged a connection with these beginnings as they gazed up into the enclosure of towering Redwoods and planted their feet on the wooden stage on which the graduates of the original school for boys once stood. Olivia Vladyka, Montezuma attendee from Rochelle Park, NJ, shares, “I had an amazing time at the Montezuma leadership summit. I made great new friends and learned that being a leader is about creating a positive JSA atmosphere on cabinet and within the chapters. Giving the graduation speech that Sunday was an experience I will never forget.”
In the location where JSA began, students learned what it takes to be a student leader in the organization, through detailed and engaging workshops on topics such as civic activism & engagement, communication, fundraising, and how to strengthen chapters. Students also had time to get to know each other through various team-building and leadership activities, which allowed them to forge better relationships with each other. Speaking to the knowledge he learned during workshops, Jonathan Johnson, another Montezuma attendee from Washington, said, “It was a perfect blend of education and entertainment. I saw and met lots of new people, and my view of this organization grew immensely as a result. I now have a greater respect for our history, as well as a more accurate picture of how we can better shape our future.” Prior to the conference, students were asked to research a local/state/national problem and come to the conference ready to discuss the issue and probable solutions. Some of the subjects covered in the solution session were the death penalty, deforestation in South Africa, infant mortality in Columbus, Ohio, and voter turnout in the U.S.
On Day Two of the Montezuma Leadership Summit, students had the privilege of listening to guest speaker, Janice Rutherford: a JSA alum, activist and a role model. Janice shared the story of her journey into politics – which began with her participation in the Junior State of America – and her current work as one of the five San Bernardino County Supervisors, a position which she has held for the past 6 years. During the Summit, relationships were built and friendships strengthened. Students learned from the wisdom, aspirations, and passions of their peers. What attendees of the Montezuma Leadership Summit 2016 have gained from their experiences will be carried back to and shared with their local JSA communities, at the state, regional, and chapter level.
Although Montezuma 2016 graduates live in states across the map, the leaders will continue to support one another and work as a team to raise the national non-profit organization to new heights. They are prepared to act as leaders and statesmen/stateswomen in their JSA communities, and to carry what they have learned into all aspects of their lives to be the best people they can be. Governor of Texas JSA, Ajay Singh, shares, “I had the honor and pleasure of planning and coordinating the Montezuma Leadership Summit this past year. Montezuma is truly a transformative experience for the students that attend. Students learn about the history of the Junior State of America at its birthplace in the Montezuma Mountain School; but more importantly, they form strong connections with fellow passionate stateswomen and statesmen from across the country – an experience that allows students to not only broaden their perspectives on political issues, but also exchange ideas on how to revitalize and improve JSA across all states. Montezuma is where many of the strongest, most dedicated JSA leaders have found their passion for the democratic ideals and free-flow of ideas that JSA promotes, and have gone on to become governors of their respective states, as well as leaders in the real world decades later. Montezuma is so important to ensuring that the original message and vision of JSA and of Prof Rogers is not lost.”