Hundreds of high school students from the Wiregrass area attended the Freshman Forum’s annual Excellence in Leadership Conference where they learned how to enhance their leadership skills, ways to get involved and how to make an impact on their surroundings.
Keynote speaker Khadidah Stone, a Montgomery native and soon-to-be TROY alumna, was forced to grow up quickly after her father was arrested and later given a 60-year jail sentence when she was just 13 years old. Instead of accepting his fate, Stone began paging at the Alabama House of Representatives at age 15 and spoke to as many elected officials, lobbyists and lawmakers as she could about the injustice of his sentencing.
“What affected my life the most wasn’t just my father going to jail, but for how long he was going to be there. My father was my hero; he was always there,” Stone said. “I knew that for what he did, 60 years was not right. I never stopped advocating for him because I felt like this sentencing was unfair.”
In April 2016, the year she turned 20, her father was paroled. Her experience being her father’s advocate led Stone to advocate for others as part of the Alabama Institute for Social Justice, Alabama Forward, Alabama Young Democrats and more. Over her years of service, Stone identified three factors in becoming a better leader: willpower, always knowing your “why” and believing in yourself.
“I hope to change the world. Like I told the students, you can do whatever you put your mind to,” she said. “I had the chance to get my father out of prison. The sky is not the limit. I didn’t even get into Freshman Forum, so it’s a full circle moment for me to be here and in some way defying the odds.
“Don’t let anyone tell you there’s something you can’t do. Defy the odds—have the willpower, always know why you’re working and just believe you can do it.”
After the keynote address, students broke out into their respective groups across the quad, each led by delegates from Freshman Forum. The theme for this year was “The Incredibles,” and each character’s leadership traits were identified and assigned to a group.
Marybeth Porter, a nursing major from Chilton County, Florida, and Vice Chair of Trojan Pride in Freshman Forum, was one of two leaders for Team Violet.
Her goal for the students in her group was for them to identify their leadership skills, see if and how they change throughout the day and to develop ways to use the traits they already have to be more efficient in their leadership roles.
An active leader at her former high school, Porter said she was proud to see so many young people wanting to step up and be involved after the limitations put on them in 2020.
“With today’s generation, especially with COVID and quarantine, we had to be reserved and distanced, so I feel like all of these students being here today says a lot about how much they want to be involved, they want to stand out, even if it’s a small form of leadership,” she said.
The main focus of the day consisted of breakout sessions and discussions covering public speaking, effective communication, transitioning from high school to college, time management, decision making and more, including a diverse panel of highly-qualified student leaders. After lunch, students spent the afternoon touring campus.
Jayden McQueen from Florida’s Crestview High School was the recipient of the John Kline Excellence in Leadership Scholarship Award given to an individual who made an impact through leadership development the past school year and who also exemplifies the qualities and attitude of a leader.
To further the goal of involvement, the Excellence in Leadership Conference is nearly entirely student-run. Sadaris Williams, Assistant Director of Student Involvement and Leadership, said it’s been a great way for the Freshman Forum students to see how they’re able to have a direct impact.
“It’s great for our Freshman Forum students to be the leaders of this because it gives them firsthand experience of how to fully execute and run an event, and it also helps them understand that they are recruiters for the university and that they can have a direct impact on the students who come here,” he said. “I think it’s always great to have high school students on our campus to show off the beauty of TROY, what TROY has to offer and to show the different ways you can be involved here. It’s an automatic recruiting tool, and that’s what I like about this conference.”
Braydon Martin, a biomed major from Headland, Alabama, serves as a delegate in Freshman Forum and was also a director of this year’s conference. One of Martin’s responsibilities was to contact schools about the event; with over 350 attendants, these prospective students were able to experience everything TROY has to offer.
“We have one of the best leadership programs here at TROY, so it’s good for students to come here and see what we have to offer, not only to help them develop those skills, but the total package of what TROY has to offer,” he said.
Schools in attendance were: Abbeville Christian Academy; Alabama Christian Academy; Ariton High School; Baker School; Brantley School; Brooks High School; Chilton County High School; Cleburne County High School; Conecuh Springs Christian School; Crestview High School; Dale County High School; Elba High School; Elberta High School; Escambia Academy; Eufaula High School; Geneva County High School; Geneva High School; GW Long; Hooper Academy; Kinston High School; Lowndes Academy; New Brockton High School; North Bay Haven Career Academy; Opelika High School; Prattville Christian Academy; Red Level School; Russellville High School; Slocomb High School; and The Lakeside School.