UM Student Leadership Day Inspires Young People to Take Charge and Responsibility for Themselves and Others
The University of Miami Sports Medicine Institute’s Student Leadership Day at first might look like it’s about getting more than one hundred students from across South Florida high schools together for a day of workshops, group activities and inspiring speakers.
But there is an important backstory, and it all started in 2009.
“Why are we here today? For a very simple reason – we got upset. We had a situation eight years ago where two students your age from two Miami high schools were meeting with college recruits for football,” said Lee Kaplan, M.D., Director of the Sports Medicine Institute and professor of orthopaedics. “One of them one day doesn’t show up for an appointment, and it turns out he got arrested for having guns in his car. His mom said the guns belonged to the owner of the car, and by day 3 in jail we figured it out.”
“Two days later, we had another student athlete arrested for dealing,” Kaplan said. He consulted with Vincent “Vinny” Scavo, head athletic trainer for the University of Miami, on what actions to take. They decided instead of just helping those two students, they would go ‘top-down.’ So they launched the Student Leadership Program and recruited some of the best students in Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach and Collier counties.
Regarding the two troubled teenagers, “One of them still hasn’t gotten it together, the other is in the NFL,” Kaplan said. This exemplifies an overarching theme of the day — choices everyone makes can and do change our futures.
Now in its 8th year, the annual Student Leadership day encourages students to improve their communication skills, to interact with others from different schools and backgrounds, and to never take no for an answer when someone suggests they cannot pursue their dream.
What the Day Means for Students
Katherine Gongora, a student at the Center for International Education, asked how to respond to people who discourage her from pursuing something they call “impossible.” Keynote speaker and professional development coach David Resseguie told her nothing is impossible. During a break, Gongora explained that she wants to be a famous singer, and despite many naysayers around her, she heard Resseguie’s message clearly: “You can do whatever you want to do, that’s what I learned today.”
Another student came to the event to “learn some inspirational things,” Joshua Neeley said. His brother, Justin Neeley, added, “I learned about how decisions I make can affect my family now and for generations to come.” He learned that how staying positive about opportunities can be important.
Sports are a Great Equalizer
The teenagers who come to the University of Miami Sports Medicine Institute are diverse and come from many walks of life, Kaplan said. But the great thing about sports is it acts as a great equalizer. “You can either play or you can’t play.”
“We usually see them at a difficult time, like when they’re injured. We developed the outreach program so we can give back and teach them things we’ve learned about mentorship, leadership, and how to make crucial decisions. We were all 14, 15 or 16 years old at some point,” Kaplan said.
“When you surround yourself with people who have made difficult decisions, you will have the ability to succeed through those, no matter what walk of life you come from,” Kaplan said. “It gives you the ability to say ‘I can do that’ or I can take a deep breath, make the right decision, and start down the correct path.”
Kaplan said he’s using sports as a vehicle to leadership. “Sports are a powerful vehicle not only for how you get ahead, but how to use those experiences. There will be kids here who cannot play at UM but they can surely play at an Ivy League school or a smaller school, so they can better themselves through that opportunity.” He added, “I want them to at least know those chances are there.”