The “Voyage to Greatness” community leadership event took place at North Cleveland Church of God, and the students leading the program touched on everything from honoring past leaders to teaching the adults that they are the future.
Students focused on leaders from the past, the present and the future through speeches, songs, dances and skits as a way of saying thanks to the community for supporting Bradley County schools.
After greetings by students Rachel Peterson and Madison Jaynes, JROTC students from Bradley Central High School kicked the event off by placing the American flag in front of the stage and leading the audience in the Pledge of Allegiance.
After a choir of students sang a patriotic song, the audience watched a short video about a grandfather who had served in a war and taught his grandsons about the sacrifices those fighting for the country had made. Local adults who had served in the U.S. Military or in other public service professions like firemen or policemen were then met with a standing ovation from the audience as students prompted them to thank those men and women for their service.
Peterson and Jaynes then presented the audience with a thank you to “leaders of the present” like parents and teachers. As Haley Esquinance and Chandler Miles sang the song “For Good” from the musical “Wicked,” other students walked across the stage with poster board signs made to thank parents for what they do.
“Thank you ... for working so hard,” one student had written on their sign. The word “so” was underlined a few times. “Thank you ... for calling me ‘buddy,’” said another student.
Students then focused on the leaders of the past. Students Iris Koltuniak, Markus Rich, Zyhrina Acebedo and Kaeli Standridge spoke about the importance of remembering past leaders before they turned the audience’s attention to a video with quotes by famous leaders like Benjamin Franklin and Winston Churchill.
After Audurie Holt sang a song called “Hero,” things turned more presidential.
“My name is Michael Robinson, and I am a future president of the United States,” said a young student decked out in a suit that seemed to be a bit too big for him.
Robinson then introduced a fellow president — an adult who impersonated President Abraham Lincoln. Sharing details of the story of his life, he explained he got to where he was because he taught himself to read at home, though he’d spent less than two years actually attending school. As he recounted what happened during the Civil War, he spoke of the importance of finding a good leader for the Union Army.
Dennis Boggs, the man portraying Lincoln, said students today fight their own wars, though they may not look like the kind of wars that employ soldiers with guns. He said wars are won with knowledge, and it is important that students continue to get the chance to learn.
“Lead these children on their own voyage of greatness,” he said. “You are looking at the voices of tomorrow.”
Students then turned the attention to themselves as the leaders of the future. Ryleigh Green, Brian Criddle, Turner Davidson, Anna Grace LaDuke and Makya and Jakyra Humes made sure the audience knew where to look for what the future has in store.
“The future is already here,” one student said. “It’s just young.”
After another song, students Jenna Bosserdet and Tucker Nicholson introduced a local family whose younger members were said to represent tomorrow’s leaders. The Armstrong family was welcomed to the stage. Because of oldest daughter Lindsey’s compassion for the homeless, the family started a local organization called The Family Kitchen, which regularly supplies meals to local people who have no place to call home.
All the while, a pretend sailing ship had stood on the stage surrounded by fabric “water.” Nat Akiona, the principal of North Lee Elementary School, and several students boarded the “S.S. Leader Ship” as Capt. Seaworthy and his crew. During the skit, they discussed how things like goal setting and teamwork kept everything “shipshape.”
Afterward, student Taylor Guyton told her fellow students to be the best they could be and shine their lights for all to see before lighting a flashlight and instructing students in the dark room to do the same.
Only after the students had their chance to shine did Director of Schools Johnny McDaniel get to speak.
The event was part of the county school system’s “Leaders for Life” program in local elementary schools that is designed to teach leadership skills. It was introduced during the 2012-13 school year, and McDaniel said Elementary School Supervisor stepped up to the plate to make it happen.
He said she had been a proponent of introducing an elementary school leadership program, but the school system did not have the budget at the time to purchase a brand-new leadership curriculum for all the schools. She decided to write her own.
McDaniel said he was proud of the program and how students had flourished under it.
“Here in Bradley County, Tenn., our future is indeed bright,” he said. “We believe ... we are growing the leaders of the next generation.”
After he said it took an entire community to ensure the success of students, students broke into more song and dance, this time with a song from “High School Musical” called “We’re All In This Together.”
Newman was the last to take the stage, and she thanked the community for its support, especially the parents and the Cleveland Rotary Foundation, which had given the school system a $5,000 grant to make the big event happen.
As she closed out the event, Newman said seeing children become leaders was her “heart” and “the right thing to do for our youth.”