CLEMSON — Hartsville High School junior Kerlyn Mondesir Jr. returned home ready to lead after a week on Clemson University’s campus for the South Carolina 4-H Clementa Pinckney Leadership Conference.
The 16-year-old plans to pursue a career in government and work to improve the quality of life in disadvantaged communities. The Pinckney Conference was his first experience with 4-H.
“I thought it was about farming, but it’s not. It’s about improving yourself for the future,” Mondesir said. “I’ve learned a lot about myself. I’ve made a few good friends, also. I wish it was longer. I had a ball.”
The weeklong 4-H Pinckney Leadership Conference brought 30 high school sophomores and juniors from across South Carolina to Clemson’s campus to participate in numerous activities designed to promote teamwork, leadership and citizenship. They spent a morning whitewater rafting and an evening playing capture the flag. Educational sessions at the conference focus on understanding various leadership styles and getting to know themselves better. Each participant leaves the conference with a “vision board,” a plan to have a positive impact on their community.
South Carolina 4-H created the conference last year to honor the late Clementa Pinckney, the pastor and state senator who was among nine churchgoers killed in June 2015 during a Bible study group meeting at Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston. Pinckney was a strong advocate for 4-H, the youth development arm of Clemson University Cooperative Extension. He’s one of the organization’s most notable South Carolina alumni. He received the 4-H Distinguished Alumni Medallion from the National 4-H Council last year.
Mondesir plans to join 4-H in Hartsville and continue to craft his skills in leadership and citizenship.
Fellow conference attendee Anaiya Whaley does as well. The 15-year-old sophomore at High School for Health Professions in Orangeburg said she aspires to be a government attorney.
“I want to make a difference in my community so I came here,” she said. “I have learned so much about self-awareness, integrity, respect, teamwork and patience.”
Mondesir and Whaley were named “Most Valuable Leaders” by conference counselors. Barbara Skipper of Columbia and Benjamin McIntosh of Darlington received the conference’s character awards and Jasmine Blair of Lancaster was named most improved.
The weeklong conference culminated July 29 with a breakfast featuring keynote speaker Sen. Vincent Sheheen, Sen. Pinckney’s desk-mate in the S.C. Senate. Sheheen told the students that true leaders cannot live in fear or hatred.
South Carolina 4-H offers the Pinckney Leadership Conference annually to rising South Carolina sophomores and juniors. Applications for the 2018 conference will be due in April.