By Keo Xiong, AALEAD MD Programs Manager, and Eljoy, AALEAD Youth
Photos Courtesy of Keo Xiong, AALEAD MD Programs Manager
Time sure flies by when you’re having fun! On Friday, June 3, Asian American LEAD Maryland youth celebrated the end of another successful after school program year. At the annual AALEAD MD Year-End Celebration, middle and high school youth came together for a final hurrah to reflect on the year and celebrate youth transitions; in particular, the promotion of eighth grade youth to high school, and the high school graduation of 31 seniors. The end of any school year is punctuated with many feelings and emotions – excitement, nervousness, sadness, bittersweet. It has been a complete joy for AALEAD staff to know and work alongside the seniors this year, although we are extremely sad to see them go. Some of these youth have been participants of AALEAD for over seven years, others for seven months; no matter their length of time with AALEAD, each senior has contributed so much time, energy, ideas, and leadership to the program.
To close out the MD after school program year, we leave you with a speech by one of our graduating seniors, Eljoy, who reflects on his time with AALEAD and offers advice to rising high school youth.
My name is Eljoy and I am one of the Blair High School graduates from this year.
First of all, it’s really hard to believe that 7 years has passed since I had joined AALEAD. Back in 2009, my family moved from our home country, Indonesia, to Maryland. I was only 11. I remember getting an invitation to come to Asian American LEAD and meeting my first AALEAD coordinator, Edison.
I can honestly say that AALEAD was the highlight of my middle school years. To a kid who just came from a foreign country and barely knew English, AALEAD offered a place where I could be comfortable showing my true self and make new friends.
One very memorable experience is my first summer program with AALEAD. It was called Digital Connectors. We learned how to be leaders by creating different workshops about computers and the Internet for people in the DMV area. Who knew that sitting in an office while making PowerPoint presentations in the blazing hot summer weather is one of the best places to make really close friends. I found two really close friends there.
What I’m trying to say is, AALEAD has done so much for me. Yes, for the past 7 years I learned a lot about how to be a leader and an advocate both for my community and myself. In fact, they [AALEAD] even let me speak at a gala at the Malaysian Embassy last year. But I think what separates AALEAD from other clubs is the fact that they let us explore more about ourselves. I didn’t just learn about life skills, I also learn[ed] more about myself. I learned how to make friends. I learned that a lot of times, we think that it’s too much work to introduce ourselves to the person sitting next to us. But if you don’t shake their hands and start a conversation, you wouldn’t know that that exact person would be the same person that you’ll be hugging at your graduation, or the person that will you take the most selfies with, or the one who’ll prank call you in the middle of the night just to say hi. AALEAD is the place where you don’t grow by yourself. You get to grow together with your friends.
To the 8th graders in AALEAD, next year you’ll be in a new environment in high school. It’ll get more stressful but I hope you’ll use that time to better yourselves. My advice is to make new friends, join clubs, and DO YOUR HOMEWORK. It’s okay if you can’t make it to every AALEAD meeting because you have a lot of homework to do, but AALEAD staff will always be there to support you whenever you need them.
And lastly, to my fellow 12th graders, WE MADE IT!! I’m really thankful that I had the opportunity to become friends with some of the awesomest, most talented people in the world. We went to different schools, but thanks to AALEAD, we’re able to come together and make a lot of great memories that we’ll still remember even until after we graduate from college. I’ll never forget the summer we spent making our own Youth Summit and the embarrassing stories we tell about each other. Shout out to all the AALEAD staff that [have] been through the past years with us.
To close it out, I want to end it with a message from my favorite manga, Fairy Tail: “I may not be able to see you, and there may be hundreds of miles between us, but I will always be looking your way. We will be watching over each other forever.”
Thank you, indeed, to all the supporters, friends, community members, and staff of Asian American LEAD for your commitment to AALEAD programming for low-income and underserved Asian Pacific American youth. Your support allows our youth to develop their leadership potential, form lasting friendships, and grow together. Most importantly, thank you, AALEAD youth, for allowing AALEAD to be a part of your educational, developmental, and personal growth, for your commitment to one another, and for the incredible stories, memories, and lessons you have shared with the AALEAD community.
Best wishes to all the AALEAD Class of 2016 high school graduates! Check out the video below to relive, reflect on, and remember your time with AALEAD!