Cecilia Graham will add her Youth Leader of the Year award from the Young Adult Liberty Leaders program to her wall of athletic awards and achievements.
Graham, 17, a rising senior at First Presbyterian Christian Academy, graduated in May from YALL, a leadership organization for students from the county’s three high schools. She graduated with about 15 other students and was chosen for the award.
Graham said she has earned many awards for sports — she played both varsity volleyball and soccer —and will hang up her leadership award alongside her other recognitions.
Daniel Clark, who currently leads the YALL program, said the committee looks for a student who stays focused during leadership seminars, asks intelligent and relevant questions and is active at volunteer events.
"We watch the students to see who is engaged (in activities), is a self-starter and emulates leadership skills," Clark said. "We watch to see if they are showing up to events and getting involved."
Graham was chosen because she stood out among her peers.
"We were requested to talk to the Rotary Club about YALL," Clark said. "Two people spoke. Cecilia did a great job with speaking. She answered questions and was calm and cool. If she didn’t know the answer, she said that she didn’t. She wasn’t frazzled."
He described her as humble, "a special young lady," and said he was impressed with her all year.
Graham was surprised to be chosen as leader of the year. What stood out the most was her mother’s reaction.
"She was like, ‘Oh, my baby! I’m so proud!’" Graham said while laughing. "She was really proud the whole way home."
Graham said being a part of YALL was "really cool."
"It was a different experience. I’ve never done anything like that. It was nice to get into the community and do little projects," Graham said.
Students are in the program for one year. Once a month, YALL students attend sessions about leadership and local entities, such as the Liberty County Board of Commissioners, city of Hinesville and Liberty Regional Medical Center. Graham’s favorite session was their visit to the hospital because she wants to become a forensic pathologist.
"We went to the hospital, and we got to dress up in scrubs. … Then we went to where they do the urine samples and blood samples and where all the technology is," she said, adding that she saw the technology related to her career choice.
YALL participates in various community events, such as Earth Day, Christmas in the Park and the STAR Student Luncheon. Graham said she enjoyed volunteering at Christmas in the Park. She recalled the smiling faces of children on the train ride, where she was stationed.
"I think this is a worthwhile program. They learn so much, and we expose them to a lot of things," Clark said. "It’s very rewarding for committee members to see them grow and excel, and see them make a difference in their community."
Students are nominated for YALL by their schools. School administrators are asked to nominate students who show leadership skills or have the potential to become leaders. The students fill out applications and are interviewed.
YALL is sponsored by the Liberty County Chamber of Commerce.