THE BLOG
07/01/2013 10:58 am ET Updated Aug 31, 2013

Redefining Tomorrow's Youth Leaders

This month, millions of young people graduated from high schools all across the country. If you've been to a high school graduation, you've probably heard one of those speeches where the principal tells the students they are the "leaders of tomorrow." Maybe you've nodded your head in agreement. And sure, I agree, too. But I don't think we're giving them enough credit.

In 1996, my brother Derek established the Turn 2 Foundation while in his first full season as shortstop for the New York Yankees. He was barely more than a teenager himself at the time, but he knew this notion of young people being the leaders of tomorrow could be taken a step further. They didn't have to wait until tomorrow; they could be the leaders of today.

Derek and our father founded the organization to motivate young people to turn away from drugs and alcohol and turn to healthy lifestyles. It was important to him that he shared our family's values -- values that helped him become the person he is -- with people throughout the country. But he knew he couldn't personally be everywhere at once. He needed ambassadors who could spread his message and be role models in their own communities. That was how Jeter's Leaders came about.

Jeter's Leaders is a four-year leadership development program for high school students in New York City and West Michigan that fosters academic excellence, healthy living and positive behavior. Leaders are expected to model positive behavior and deliver a message to their peers focusing on staying in school, remaining drug- and alcohol-free, and giving back to the community.

What is most impressive is the character of the 72 young people in the Jeter's Leaders program. We do not manufacture leaders. We help those with promise reach their full potential and become agents of positive change. The requirements are stringent and the application process is rigorous. And yet every year, we come across hundreds of teenagers in New York and Michigan who have already demonstrated leadership in their communities -- the kind of leadership we are told is a quality unique to adults.

This month, 21 teenagers graduated not only from high school, but from the Jeter's Leaders program as well. Each of them begins college in September, just as 100% of Jeter's Leaders graduates have since 2008. If I was a principal delivering a graduation address, I would tell them not to wait for tomorrow to lead. I would tell them to keep it up, because they have already proven they can be the leaders of today.

If you know a young person who lives in New York City or West Michigan and is a leader in his or her community, please visit turn2foundation.org for more information.