Few 16-year-olds will shake your hand, look you in the eye, and say, “I’ve read your bio.”
But Jeff Copeland, a junior at South Forsyth High School, recently acquired that skill set.
There’s much more, though. After one week of “Leadership Unplugged: A CNN Experience,” Copeland can pitch story ideas with the best of them.
During a recent telephone interview, he gave an example of a story pitch about 15- to 21-year-olds being impacted by Social Security.
“Basically, at the rate we’re spending right now… we’re not going to be getting anything back,” he said.
Copeland added that the United States is spending about a billion dollars per day more than can be afforded.
“We’re in a $9.4 trillion national debt right now,” he said. “Current politicians won’t have to worry about it in years to come, it’ll be up to the youth to take care of that.”
The weeklong camp, recently held at Georgia Tech, taught a group of juniors and seniors from across the state to network, pitch story ideas and be “media literate.”
Students stayed in dorms on campus, attended workshops, discussed world issues with CNN Student News journalists, created news-related projects and met executives in media-related careers.
Leadership Unplugged is one of several summer programs under the umbrella of 21st Century Leaders, a nonprofit organization that joins with businesses and schools to develop students with leadership potential.
The group offers programs throughout the year spanning from a week to a few days.
Donna Krache, executive producer of CNN Student News, worked closely with the students.
“It makes you feel like the world is in good hands with the next generation, it really does,” she said after the program ended. “We’ve got some real leaders there.”
Just knowing how to look sharp in front of executives isn’t even half of the program. Krache emphasizes political involvement and being media savvy.
“I think what it does is it plants the seed that their ideas are important,” she said. “This isn’t just lip service. This is a genuine belief in that you have an upcoming generation that wants to be heard.
“If they’re engaged in the process at this age then they’re going to participate at voting age. Quite honestly, before you ever rock the boat, you have to educate it.”
Among other values stressed in the program include diversity.
“The more diverse perspectives you bring to a broad case, the more fair you are and the more you’re considering all the perspectives,” Krache said. “That’s what a global network is all about.”
Bob Watson, director of 21st Century Leaders, wants diversity to be near and dear to students.
His children, he said, attended Decatur High School, which is about “half black, half white, two-thirds upper-middle class and one-third lesser economic circumstances … but everyone still kind of is the same because they have the same experience called Decatur High School.”
Children may not have the depth of diversity experience that Watson is talking about even in more demographically diverse schools.
“Imagine kids going to college … really desiring to grow in that kind of experience,” Watson said.
“It’s more than just, ‘I’m going to tolerate people that are different than me.’ It’s more than just, ‘OK, I’m kind of comfortable with people that are different than me.’ It’s … I’m better off when they’re around me.”
Watson said the many programs offered by the nonprofit organization are designed to “complement the historic mission of public schools.”
Currently, he is looking for the area’s “20 Under 20,” or teens that can be recognized for the year based on their accomplishments.
The purpose is to showcase young people who “have just done some extraordinary things already so we kind of want to highlight those kids. And there may be one or two of those kids in Forsyth County.”