We were blessed with an opportunity to pick the brains of some of Tampa Bay’s most talented and influential teens. We will feature their stories over the coming weeks and hope that you enjoy learning of their accomplishments as much as we did.
Ten community-minded high school students from the Tampa Bay area were chosen to receive a paid eight-week summer internship at Boys and Girls Club of Tampa Bay, Boys and Girls Club of the Suncoast and the StrazCenter for Performing Arts as part of the 2013 Student Leaders program, a national initiative by Bank of America to provide young people with the opportunity to earn and learn while working at a non-profit that meets the needs of the community.
The students chosen for the program in the Tampa Bay area form a diverse group. They’ve overcome numerous obstacles and are now recognized among their peers, educators and family as leaders. Some have even started non-profits that help make a difference. All ten students have either graduated from high school this year or will be entering their senior year this fall. They began interning throughout the Tampa Bay area this week.
Our first featured phenom is Noelle Rutland of St. Petersburg High School. Noelle is involved in multiple clubs at school that allow her to volunteer and showcase her leadership. She has learned the value of serving others within her community. Noelle will be interning at the Straz Center for Performing Arts.
At what age, did you really decide to become successful and go above and beyond? What did that mean for you? What did the plan look like?
As far back as I can remember I have always had the ambition to succeed. My parents instilled in me the value of hard work and instructed me to give my all toward every challenge I encountered. It is this willingness to work hard even when it is not fun or convenient, along with a genuine desire to become the very best I can be at any given task or in any given area that I attribute to my success thus far.
What activities did you do to avoid becoming stressed out and ready to give up?
For me, the best way to avoid stress has always been to stay organized. To stay on top of the tasks I need to complete and to balance my time between many different activities, I make to-do lists and keep a calendar. Reading, listening to music and rollerblading are other great stress relievers.
What is the best advice your parents ever gave you?
My dad has always said that you get to choose what mood you’re going to be in when you wake up in the morning. He emphasizes that you get to pick how you’re going to respond when things don’t go your way or when someone doesn’t agree with your idea of how things should be. His advice, though often difficult to follow, has helped me remember to stay positive and to respond with patience and love rather than anger and hatred.
What qualities of leadership came naturally to you? Which were hardest to learn?
I am naturally levelheaded and good with management and organization. I am passionate, focused, and goal oriented. Conversely, it was difficult for me to learn that a good leader listens more than they talk, is a team player, and does not attempt to control every aspect of the group. I also am continuously trying to improve my communication skills, which are invaluable for successful leadership.
How would you change the current high school curriculum to better challenge and motivate our freshmen?
In high school, I learned the most from the open discussion groups we had in many of my classes. Rote memorization, teaching to the test and busy work stifle creativity and often bore students. I am also a firm believer in the coaching system. In the International Baccalaureate program at my high school, students are assigned a teacher as a coach and mentor to help address their specific needs and point them on a road toward success. This system proved invaluable to me as a student and I believe could help many others.
What did you do differently than your peers?
My peers often marvel that I frequently win scholarships and am given access to wonderful opportunities such as the Bank of America Student Leaders program. However, I respond to their awe by explaining that I lose as many scholarships as I win, and that I have to apply to many different programs to improve my chance of success. I am different than my peers because I recognize that nothing is going to be handed to me. I am willing to take the initiative and do the hard work to carve out a path for myself, and I don’t give up just because I don’t succeed the first time around.
Where will next year find you?
Next year I will be attending Washington and Lee University in Lexington , Virginia . I was selected as a Bonner Scholar, a program for high achieving students with a passion for community service, and will be completing 450 hours of community service as a Bonner during my freshman year. I plan to major in Political Science with a concentration in International Relations.
Would could your parents have done differently to make it easier for you to excel? What did they do well?
To make it easier for me to excel, I would have appreciated less pressure from my parents. Despite this, I recognize that they sometimes put pressure on me because they love me and want to see me do well. My parents have been my biggest support system over the years. They have encouraged me in all of my endeavors and sacrificed much of their time to drive me to musical rehearsals, sit through awards ceremonies, and judge debate tournaments. Many times they have pushed me beyond my comfort zone and are not afraid to tell me when I have made a mistake. My parents have created an environment which is not only supportive, but which also allows me to be challenged and to grow as an individual.
How did you keep your eyes on the “prize” while avoiding the pressures of growing up? [dating, just say no, etc]
I was able to stay away from potential distractions by recognizing the importance of doing well in school and staying on the right path. I also found creative outlets in theater and debate, and was so busy working on all of the things I was passionate about that I didn’t have time to be distracted by the things that teenagers often get caught up in.
How would you motivate another student that may be in trouble, to see that all the hard work is worth it?
I firmly believe that there is no prerequisite for success other than a commitment toward hard work and a willingness not to give up when things get tough. To motivate others, I try to illuminate the possibilities which are available to them if they devote the time necessary to be successful. Sometimes all a person really needs to be motivated is to know that someone believes in their capability for success.
This is what Noelle’s mom, Lori, said about her and her husband’s blessed life with Noelle.
At what age, did you notice the drive to succeed become prevalent in your child’s life? How did you foster that?
At a very young age Noelle showed poise and maturity. She always enjoyed both the written and spoken word and her Dad and I read to her every night until she could read to us. We always looked for new opportunities for her to learn and new activities for her to engage in. When she was 2, the preschool aide in her classroom told me that talking with her was like talking to an adult. I guess it was then I realized that she had the ability and the determination to go far in life.
What did you sacrifice along the way in order to assist your child(ren)?
My husband and I have made significant sacrifices for our two daughters. When Noelle was born I made the decision to open my own legal practice where I could work part time so that I could spend more time with her. This of course affected our finances. Also we made the commitment to drive across the county for the best possible schools for our daughters. (I have done this for twelve years) We have also spent considerable sums for extra activities like the debate team to enrich Noelle’s education. We have spent countless hours at school functions and volunteering. We attend and support Noelle in all of her activities.
Would you consider yourselves overprotective or lenient? Did your child’s [extraordinary] nature affect the way you raised them?
I’d like to think we are neither overprotective or lenient. We allowed Noelle to take some risks such as going to China for six weeks on a State Department program. Some parents told us they would never let their children go on that type of trip. Noelle greatly benefited from the experience and considers the trip one of the most special events of her life. We are strict in some areas, personal responsibility, and commitment to community service and to academic achievement.
What did you do differently from other parents when raising these amazing teens?
We gave of ourselves in time, money, and most importantly encouragement and love. We share with our daughters our values: a strong belief in God, the thankfulness to live in a wonderful country that allows us so many freedoms and opportunities and the strong love and bond of our family.
How can parents make a difference in the schools that would better help their children succeed?
Be involved. Volunteer in the classroom and on field trips. Get to know your child’s teacher. Don’t be afraid to speak up if you have a legitimate issue that is impacting your child at school. Give of your time, talents and money to help improve the school and your child’s education.
A very special thank you to Noelle for sharing your story with us. We feel blessed to have been put in your path and know that God has great things in store for you. You have made Tampa Bay very proud!
A very special thank you to Salter Mitchell for extending us the opportunity to interview these phenomenal teens. They totally rock!