I have always believed in the power of dreaming big and never being limited by small thinking. I've made it a priority to let faith be the guiding force in my life. When I made the decision to participate in the Boys & Girls Clubs of America's National Youth of the Year program at my local club, I knew that it would require hard work and dedication, but most importantly faith. Being named the National Youth of the Year was a dream that was far bigger than me, far bigger than my local club and far bigger than my community. This was a dream that kept me up at night and was always a part of my morning and nighttime prayers. Never has there been anything that I wanted to achieve more. I had to speak this goal into existence. I had to declare it and put those positive thoughts in the atmosphere. No matter what I was doing at the moment, my thoughts would always drift to being the National Youth of the Year.
I had to believe that I was capable of carrying the torch for such an excellent organization and serving as a youth ambassador for nearly four million youth. Beyond the personal goals that I had set for myself, there were so many people who believed in me. My Boys & Girls Club family, my wonderful mother, my church family, my mentors and my awesome community all helped me believe that this dream would soon become a reality. For me, this wasn't simply about a title or competition. This was an opportunity to inspire people all across the nation. I worked extremely hard at each level. I wanted to deliver my speech in a way that inspired people and motivated them to never give up. I wanted the judges to know how resilient and dedicated I was. I wanted my application to perfectly reflect who I am: a girl who had known pain, strife and obstacles -- but refused to give up on her aspirations. I wanted the whole world to know that I am a proud product of the Boys & Girls Club. The Boys & Girls Club changed my life and I wouldn't be half of the person that I am without it. Because of my club, I will continue to excel in every stage of my life. When I was named the National Youth of the Year last September, I know that I had worked extremely hard but that there was a greater and more powerful force working on my behalf.
I remember constantly watching Mona Dixon's 2010-2011 National Youth of the Year speech when she talked about overcoming homelessness. I watched Nick Foley and Trei Dudley's (also former National Youth of the Year recipients) speeches, in which they shared their personal experiences. Despite all of these trials and tribulations, none of them let their obstacles define them. All of the National Youth of the Year recipients are living proof that Boys & Girls Clubs save lives. The Boys & Girls Club does not give up on young people. For me, my club remained the sunshine in the midst of a storm and the light during the darkness.
Being the National Youth of the Year provided me with amazing opportunities. The scholarship money that I was awarded from Tupperware Brands Corporation and The Rick & Susan Goings Foundation has helped me continue my education at Howard University, debt free. I met President Obama in the Oval Office. I delivered the game ball at the World Series and MLB All-Star Game. I was featured on Fox News' Beyond the Dream, Good Morning America and the TODAY Show. I met so many notable figures including Former Secretary of States Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice, Speaker of the House John Boehner, Dr. Jill Biden, Misty Copeland, Patti LaBelle, Goldie Hawn, Kelly Rowland, Idina Menzel and a host of others who are all amazing supporters of the Boys & Girls Clubs of America. However, my favorite part of being National Youth of the Year is the relationships that I have built with the other finalists and the outstanding support on my behalf from the Tupperware Brands Corporation. The finalists from 2013-2014 will always be my brothers and sisters, and Tupperware Brands, the sponsor of the program, has gone above and beyond in supporting me! Their helpful advice, resources and smiling faces will always be remembered. Also, Boys & Girls Clubs of America accepted and welcomed me despite all of my flaws and awkward moments. I am forever indebted to them.
To Maryah Sullivan, the new National Youth of the Year, the time has come where you will embark on this magical journey. There is nothing that compares to this opportunity. The relationships that you will build, the opportunities that you will gain and the people who you will inspire will truly be amazing. Remember that you are equipped with the finest tools and have worked extremely hard to get where you are. Soak it all in! Appreciate every moment, and don't take anything for granted. Stay humble. I have tried to represent this organization to the best of my abilities, and I now pass the torch to you. You are more than ready and qualified. I look forward to watching you succeed and excel in every part of your life, and to watching you grow as the National Youth of the Year and as a young woman. I promise to offer moral support, advice and guidance. I am officially your big sister. Welcome to the family. In the words of Dr. Seuss, "So be sure when you step, step with care and great tact. And remember that life's A Great Balancing Act. And will you succeed? Yes! You will, indeed! (98 and ¾ percent guaranteed) Kid, you'll move mountains." ― Dr. Seuss, Oh, The Places You'll Go!