I had no idea what the Aspen Young Leaders Fellowship was when I first applied. One of my teachers recommended it to me. It was really intimidating at first! Everyone is so intelligent. I was talking with a lot of smart people doing big things in St. Louis. Luckily, they paired us with a lot of like-minded people, and it was inspiring to find that I was just as intelligent as everyone else in the room.
I’ve learned that being a leader isn’t just about yourself. It’s about the community you’re trying to change. Right now, my fellowship group is focused on being flexible as leaders. In the last session, we talked about Lego bricks and how we can pair them in so many different ways to add up to something. We’re also talking a lot more about how to unify the diverse sets of people involved in the issues that we are passionate about.
Most of the young people in the fellowship are from St. Louis. They paired us well. Everyone understands different people’s backgrounds. One of our themes is to argue joyfully. At first, it made me uncomfortable to think that people didn’t think just like me. I always assumed other people were wrong if they didn’t think like me. But there are so many perspectives.
I always knew I was interested in leadership. But I had never thought about how I could be a leader in my day-to-day life. The fellowship inspires me to be more active in my school community. I always thought that making a change was for someone else. I never imagined myself being the change.
Aspen Young Leaders Fellow Elyse Bonner is in her first year at Tuskegee University, studying environmental science.