By ALEXANDROS VAROUTAS
Neil McNeil Catholic High School student Connor McDowell was recently awarded the DAREarts Youth Leadership Award.
The DAREarts program has teachers and other educators seek out students who have potential to excel in leadership and provides them with the opportunity to do so.
The focus of the program differs slightly from most other youth leadership programs.
Instead of selecting students that have already demonstrated their proficiency in leadership, students are chosen who require extra support to realize their full potential.
Youth who may have had their options limited and had to deal with challenges are assisted in developing their leadership skills through the arts.
McDowell, who is now 18 years old, was nominated by a teacher for the award after overcoming a number of challenges throughout his student career. He’s an athlete, motivational speaker, has a deep interest in trains, and was class valedictorian for his school’s graduation.
When he was younger, McDowell was diagnosed with ADHD and found himself falling behind in multiple subjects. This eventually fed into bullying he experienced in elementary school.
“It was really hard for myself to walk up in front of the class holding a Grade 5 textbook while they’re all doing Grade 8 stuff,” he said. “And it kind of fed into a little bit of the bullying that happened to me.”
Going into high school he felt he could take on more of a challenge in math but was advised by his teacher to stick with the basic level of the course.
The results were a grade of 100 per cent and a missed opportunity to challenge himself.
McDowell now understands that he can do all the things other students can do. He just might have to work a little harder to do them.
This is where having a good leader would have made a difference, and why leadership has become so important. For McDowell, a good leader has good habits, sets an example, doesn’t follow the crowd, and works hard on everything they do.
But above all that, a good leader should be able to take a negative experience and use it to share wisdom and opportunities with others.
This need to share his experience with overcoming challenges is what led to McDowell trying his hand as a motivational speaker over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I feel like what’s really influenced me on my leadership journey is just seeing how you can change people’s lives just by supporting them,” he said.
McDowell explained that little things like helping someone cross the road or holding the door can have a massive impact, and he hopes to harness this impact every chance he gets.
As for next steps, McDowell has decided to pursue his passion for trains and will be attending a train conducting program in Alberta.
For more information on DAREarts, please go to https://darearts.com/