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What Leadership Taught Me About Looking Back To Move Forward

By Cultures Of Dignity | July 11, 2018

What Leadership Taught Me About Looking Back To Move Forward

Tré Garnett is a rising sophomore at the University of Oregon. He grew up in Fort Collins, Colorado and as a student at Rocky Mountain High School attended the 2015 Hugh O’Brian Youth (HOBY) Colorado Conference as well as the 2015 HOBY World Leadership Congress, and the 2016 EF Tours Global Leadership Summit alongside other HOBY alumni. He is currently an intern with Cultures of Dignity for the summer! Below is his powerful message.

Learn about HOBY and how it has helped Tré continue to grow in his new role as a group facilitator at the 2018 HOBY Colorado Conference.

What would it be like to speak with a younger you? What would you say? What would you want them to know? I faced each of these questions as an assistant facilitator at Hugh O’Brian Youth (HOBY) Leadership’s 2018 Colorado seminar.

 HOBY is a global organization created by late actor Hugh O’Brian following his service trip to Africa with humanitarian Dr. Albert Schweitzer. As he prepared to board his plane back to the US, Dr. Schweitzer grabbed his hand, and asked,“Hugh, what are you going to do with this?” This farewell was meant to challenge Hugh to not let his service end when he left Africa. Dr. Schweitzer implored Hugh to continue making an impact.   To this end, Hugh founded HOBY to empower young people to lead on a personal, group, and societal scale. In 2018, 60 years after its initial founding, HOBY has grown into a global force for youth leadership; having worked with over 425,000 students to become HOBY ambassadors.

As one such alumnus, I have met students from around the world and learned from incredible charismatic experts such as Dr. Arun Gandhi and Ndaba Mandela. By the end of my experience with HOBY, I have grown into a leader with an incredible new understanding of the world as well as a toolbox full of new skills.

Ambassadors at the 2018 HOBY Colorado Conference

Three years after my own ambassador experience at the University of Denver, , I returned to lead a group of new students on a transformative journey. In this new role, I was in charge of co-facilitating and spending my days with a group of nine high school sophomores who were perhaps a bit confused and overwhelmed as they went through a four-day conference of leadership training, keynote speakers, and loud, if not occasionally silly, cheers. For most of the ambassadors in my group, the HOBY environment was like another world. From the first minute, it was a complete whirlwind with brief moments of downtime. I hoped that I could provide my group of ambassadors with this same experience I had when I was their age. I loved HOBY and created so many powerful bonds through it. However, three years made it hard to remember what it was like to be a wide-eyed sophomore being told that this seminar would change my life in only four days.

I saw the ambassadors’ skepticism and discomfort. I suppose being told that your life was about to change while singing about burritos and baby sharks would create some doubt. I realized my main challenge as a facilitator was how would I bridge the gap between my understanding and love for HOBY with my ambassadors’ apprehension? While I was certainly a bit reluctant when I was in their shoes, I quickly adapted to the high energy of the HOBY environment. Now,  I was responsible for helping these young ambassadors recognize their potential and hopefully use it to create positive change, but I could only do that if I worked with these young people to see that program was valuable even if they were experiencing it in a different way than I had.

Being a facilitator was all about showing the ambassadors that there was a powerful and worthwhile experience in front of them if they took a leap into unknown territory to meet it.


Facing this challenge is what made my experience as a facilitator so much more powerful. I sat in the same rooms, did the same cheers, and experienced many of the same lessons as my group, but now I was experiencing it not as a recipient, but as a mentor. I stopped focusing on how keynote speakers or activities struck me and, instead, worried about creating the most impactful experience for my ambassadors. I tried to spend less time internalizing and more time thinking about how I could create profound conversations within my group. Being a facilitator was all about showing the ambassadors that there was a powerful and worthwhile experience in front of them if they took a leap into unknown territory to meet it. Ultimately, despite the initial awkwardness and trepidation, my group did bond and began having deeper dialogues. Lunches which were first filled with awkward silence were replaced with laughing and games. The first activity debriefs which only brought some of my group out of their shells in the beginning were replaced with profound ideas on how to tackle inequity and discussions learning from the lives of one another to better understand how to help one another. I was proud to see them in the HOBY spirit and their experience filled me with nostalgia for my days as an ambassador as well a newfound joy born from the knowledge that they had been positively impacted by their experience.

In those four days, I spoke to my younger self nine times over. In each of these conversations, I realized that what I needed to say was not how they should feel or what experience they should be seeking. Instead, I only needed them to know that this was their own experience and that I would support them in pursuing however they so chose. This is what made the experience organic and real. My group was not forced to follow my path, they were given the opportunity to explore it of their own volition. I was only there to help them along when they needed it. My facilitator role was a new path for me just as attending HOBY was a new path for the ambassadors and we should explore them as best we can while supporting one another in our individual journeys.

If you have questions for Tré, feel free to email