The city of Suwanee held a graduation ceremony for the 2022 Suwanee Youth Leaders program during the Tuesday, Nov. 29, City Council meeting.
The 10-month leadership program began in 2014, with a hiatus during 2020 and 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. According to suwanee.com/engage/suwanee-youth-leaders, the program’s mission is to “empower young leaders to connect inside the community and make an impact outside the classroom.” The program includes monthly learning sessions, a two-day retreat, guest speakers, field trips and several hands-on projects, including event planning and a community service initiative.
Suwanee Youth Leaders planned multiple community events, including several Food Truck Fridays and Suwanee’s Got Talent, a city-wide talent show that saw approximately 25 acts perform for a crowd of several hundred people and several judges. For the two largest projects, the youth were organized into smaller groups, such as marketing and logistics, and met dozens of times over six months. Participants were required to meet regularly with their assigned group on their own time, develop effective communication strategies and create timelines and budgets for their respective projects. The city of Suwanee provided seed money for the program projects, with the youth working to fundraise to provide additional funds for their budgets.
The Suwanee Youth Leaders developed Cheers as a community service project, honoring council member Adam Edge with a memorial. Edge lost a battle with cancer in 2020. He was a cofounder of the SYL program and was called “the heart of the program.” This project saw the group declaring April 1, 2022, Edge’s birthday, as Cheers Day, to be a good works day. “Cheers” was Edge’s usual way of saying farewell. Drawing on the legacy Edge created with his work in the program, the youth decided to make the memorial a “chill spot” for youth. Working with businesses, contractors and landscape designers, the memorial turned into a pocket park. The project is still underway and is expected to be completed by the end of the 2022-2023 school year. Donations are still being accepted to fund the completion of the project.
Several students spoke to the council about what the program meant to them and the ways they benefited from participating in Suwanee Youth Leaders. Rahul Pandit, one of this year’s graduates, said “I would need more than one story to summarize all I have learned in my time here. I don’t know how I’ve changed, but I know I’ve changed for the better. That’s the magic of the Suwanee Youth Leaders.” Graduate Mae Anderson had a message for her fellow graduates, saying “Thank you, each and every one of you, for your commitment and the energy that you have put into the past nine months. I’ve made so many friends along the way, and SYL helped me grow closer to the ones I already knew. If I’m honest, I didn’t know about the Suwanee Youth Leader program when my teacher told me to apply but having been in this program has absolutely changed me for the better. To my fellow SYL graduates, you are the ones that have made this special, and I thank you for that.”
Each graduate of the program received a diploma, with refreshments being served after the council meeting. The 2022 Suwanee Youth Leaders graduates are Nathan Allen, Rudra Amin, Mae Anderson, Andrew Bababtunde, Karla Becerra, Ava Belflower, Beau Blackburn, Utkarsh Borikar, Claire Brautigan, Amari Carter, Hailey Chappel, Shane Chen, Aryan Chokshi, Jillian Daniels, Emma Davis, Sanjna Desai, Sean Fisher, Savannah Fulks, Dominique Goodman, Jaida Guarnieri, Kailey Hanks, Isabel Hernandez, Lena Ho, Chanel Holguin, Nafisa Jumabaeva, Iliyan Kajani, John Kantor, Christopher Kibwana, Hannah Lee, Kyle Lee, Carter Lipe, Jiali Liu, Purnima Magar, Siddharth Mehta, Disha Mishra, Nolan Morris, Ishika Narsingani, Jason Onwumare, Rahul Pandit, Jihu (Isabella) Park, Krupa Patel, Ziyada Rakhimova, Sri Ravela, Kelden Robinson, Saajan Shah, Ashlee Tam, Brandon Tang, Lena Towne, Zora Tucker, Josephine Vasilco, Christian Vasquez, Lauryn Vasquez, Aditi Venkatesh, Jala Wells, Micah Woods, Jonah Yonathan, and Justin Yoon.