What Do Young Leaders Have In Common?

Editor’s note: This guest post is by Tiffany Price, former education program fellow and program coordinator of the Koshland Young Leader Awards. She is also the information strategist for the Kapor Center for Social Impact.

Last Tuesday, I had the pleasure of celebrating with ten amazing Koshland Young Leader Award recipients, their families, friends, and other supporters.

The award was established 20 years ago by Dr. Daniel Koshland, Jr. to give additional funds to San Francisco public high school juniors with extraordinary life challenges, yet high academic performance, to help them access college. The recipients are  all great scholars with amazing stories of triumph and resilience.

After five years coordinating this awards program, I recognized two additional common characteristics among all the awardees — from their stories, witnessing them in action, and getting to know them individually.

Hearts of Gratitude
Many of these young people have never won anything in their entire lives. More often than not, they had to do without even the basic necessities. Some have been homeless; some left their families in other countries to come, alone, to the U.S. for a better education. Some have dealt with chronic illness, family crises, or having to work full-time jobs while going to high school.

Despite — or perhaps because of — their struggles, they are the most grateful and humble people I have ever encountered.

Their lives have not soured them. The extra hard work has not embittered them. Many even view these challenges as character-building experiences that they are grateful for.

They have given some of the biggest hugs and most sincere and heartfelt thanks to me, the Koshland family, and others at the Foundation upon receiving this award. Many of them continue to give thanks years after receiving the award. They inspire all of us to do a better job of thanking those who have lifted and blessed me when I have needed it most.

Hearts of Service
Even with all these students have endured, all of them have a commitment to the value of serving others. Their drive to go to college is in service of helping their parents and siblings have a better life: sending money home to family members, building their parents the house they always wanted, or becoming an immigration lawyer so other families don’t have to go through difficult experiences. They help their classmates with their studies, care for their siblings, work to help their family pay for food and rent, and engage in community organizing to better their neighborhoods and schools.

This amazing group of young people has every reason to focus on themselves. But they choose, instead, to use their time, talent, and treasure to help others.

They don’t consider individual success to be success at all — unless they can share it with those who have loved and supported them along the way.

There is much to learn from these young leaders. In the face of adversity, we must remain humble, count our blessings, and be grateful for the contributions and sacrifices of those in our lives who helped us along our journeys.

These young people are the reason I continue to be a part of this work.  And it is why their stories of triumph and dedication touch so many across the Bay Area, the nation, and the world.

Learn more about the Koshland Young Leader Awards and the 2013 awardees.