Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Youth Have a Ball in Leadership Program

WASHINGTON--(Jan.18,2009) Kristine Abrenica (center) along with fellow P.Y.I.C. members stand outside the Lincoln Memorial during the We Are One concert. (Photo submitted by Kristine Abrenica)
By Margaret DeJesus (

All of the invitations are usually an inch thick, but this one was special. It had gold lining on the edges.

“Is this real? I thought it was a joke,” Kristine Abrenica of Brooklyn, New York recalled thinking to herself.

Much like the invites to other conferences, sometimes in places as far away as Budapest and China, this seemed like another expensive and out of this world offer from the Congressional Youth Leadership Conference (CYLC).

But when she opened the envelope, Abrenica realized it was an invitation to witness history: the presidential inauguration of Barack Obama.

Despite the fact that she broke her ankle weeks before the inauguration playing basketball, a sport President Obama is familiar with, she didn’t think twice about the CYLC’s offer. Even if it meant hobbling around the National Mall in crutches and a big cast.

The CYLC is an organization based just outside of Washington D.C. geared to bring out the leadership qualities within the country’s best and brightest middle and high school students. It sponsors forums, workshops and conferences featuring renowned speakers.

Thanks to a teacher’s recommendation years ago and some nudging from her parents, Abrenica attended one of their conferences in Manhattan and it paid off. Alumni of CYLC programs are invited to attend the Presidential Youth Inaugural Conference (PYIC).

“I never would have imagined I’d be doing this (attending the inauguration of the first African American president),” said the Poly Prep high school sophomore.

Elizabeth Waters, a sophomore in high school from North Carolina and Abrenica’s roommate for the trip, said she plans to be a lawyer someday. The CYLC seemed to be a great stepping stone to gain more insight in her field.

“I just wanted to meet people, experience something new and further my knowledge,” she said.
Last summer she attended a National Youth Leadership Council forum on law, which made her eligible to attend the PYIC.

“The most memorable moment for me was the swearing in. People were screaming and crying,” said Waters. “It was so touching to see that many people dedicated to seeing him (Obama),” even with the cold weather. “It was just amazing.”

Being a member looks good on paper, particularly on resumes, but attending the events can cost a hefty price. The inaugural conference cost roughly $2000 for the five day stay which didn’t account for the new gowns, suits, dresses and other attire required. It was all worth it according to Abrenica.

“I know a lot of people, who started off doing it (CYLC) because it would look good on a college application. But you keep going to their events because it brings a new perspective and broadens your horizons,” said Abrenica who has since met people from other parts of the world, including South Africa and England.

As if watching the inauguration ceremony in the National Mall wasn’t enough, students lucky enough to attend this year’s PYIC heard from keynote speakers General Colin Powell, Former Vice President Al Gore and Nobel Peace Prize winner Desmond Tutu. They even had their own ball to attend with a performance by former American Idol Chris Daughtry.

By Wednesday morning Abrenica had her own snapshots of history, which included a digital camera video of Obama’s slip up during his oath of office and a kind gesture from a stranger who offered her a seat.

“The diversity and feeling of being united from Obama, how he united the country and kids from all over the world like us is what I’ll never forget,” she said.

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