Rising Sun High School sophomores Catherine Dymowski and Harriet Starr recently underwent a life-altering experience.
Dymowski and Starr were selected to attend the Hugh O'Brian Youth (HOBY) Maryland Leadership Seminar held at Mt. St. Mary's University over Memorial Day weekend.
Typically, Rising Sun sends one student to the annual event. Six people expressed an interest in attending and were asked to write an essay. Dymowski and Starr stood out, 10th grade counselor Doug Wiegand said.
"They both were so great," Wiegand said. "I found out from HOBY we were able to nominate two students because of the size of our school."
Dymowski wanted to attend the HOBY seminar after her brother, Cal, had a positive experience there in 2013. "HOBY changes and inspires," she said. "I talked with my parents and we decided I totally should do it, too. I wanted the same changes to happen to me."
Starr wasn't sure what to expect. "I heard about it from Mr. Wiegand and he said it was a great opportunity," Starr said. "I said to myself, 'Why not do it?' I wanted to have that experience. I thought that at worst it would be a fun week."
The seminar began with a half-day on Thursday, May 21, followed by full days on Friday and Saturday and a half day on Sunday ending with closing ceremonies.
The seminar featured panels on topics including entrepreneurship, diversity, volunteerism, and the media. There were leadership labs, community service, and also social opportunities.
"I learned leadership qualities and how to be a leader," Dymowski said. "But I also learned how to be a member of a group. I made new friends. It was an amazing experience. I wish I could do it again."
It was better than Starr had anticipated. "It's so hard to describe it to someone who hasn't gone through it," she said. "It's so unique. It makes you want to change yourself. It makes you want to meet new people. It's indescribable. It's life-changing."
Dymowski and Starr didn't describe themselves as introverts before the HOBY seminar, but the experience did make them even more outgoing.
I was never really shy but I was a little uncomfortable introducing myself to new people," Starr said. "Now I can go up to people and say, 'Hi, I'm Harriet. What's your name?'"
"I was a little bit more shy than Harriet," Dymowski said. "The first day I was in a line and a boy in front of me turned around and we started a conversation. There was nothing awkward or uncomfortable about it."
The Rising Sun students are keeping in touch with their new friends. Dymowski says she has a daily group chat with people she met at HOBY and there's talk of organizing a reunion.
They can become Team Alumni and help at next year's seminar if they complete 100 hours of community service and their applications are accepted.
Starr says they are thinking about beginning a Key Club at Rising Sun High to promote volunteerism.
"HOBY makes you think, 'What do I want to start?' and 'How do I help my community?'," said Starr.