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Emily… a leader now and for the future

Primary school teacher Emily York came to thank the Rotary Club of Leicester Novus for sponsoring her “life-changing” week as their delegate on the 33rd Rotary Youth Leadership Award — RYLA — to be held at Grafham Water, near Huntingdon.

Thirty-six young people aged 18-26 sponsored by businesses and Rotary clubs.took part in an intensive week of physical, mental and emotional challenges.

One of Emily’s favourites was her first experience of kayaking. Emily said: “I went on this course determined to be an ‘I Can’ person, so when we were asked to volunteer to be the first person to deliberately capsize the kayak and right it, So I said I would.”

That was followed over successive days by being marketing manager for a temporary company in a business game, rock climbing, rope climbing, sailing, raft-racing and night-hiking. In between, Emily and her new friends learned from lectures on The Role of The Leader, on Rotary and Rotaract (for service-minded people aged 18-30) and The Art of Public Speaking.

Emily was a good learner… she was invited to write and deliver a speech on behalf all the ‘Rylanders’ who took part during a formal dinner on the last night of the course.

She told Novus: “I’m so grateful to you all for sending me on this course. I learned so much about myself in a short time.”

President Pradeep with Novus's RYLA candidate Emily York

President Pradeep with Novus’s RYLA candidate Emily York

The transcript of Emily’s speech at Graham Water is here: –

Thank you, good evening everybody. I hope you’re having a wonderful evening. Firstly, can I just quickly say how well everybody scrubs up, I think after the week we have had, I’m impressed we could even get out of bed, let alone all look at least half decent. You all look lovely.
So, RYLA. I first heard about RYLA when I was invited to a talk with the Rotary Club of Leicester Novus. It was initially marketed to me as a character building leadership course where young people from far and wide can network as young professionals which sounded great and very timely for me, so I eagerly attended the interview which was still relatively vague, with only a few hints towards outdoor water activities. What they had failed to tell me was that we would be walking into the early hours of a rainy morning on our first night, going on an overnight expedition where we must have walked for 12 hours before even getting to our camp site and that I would get an egg named Elijah launched into my face by my own team mate. But I’m glad they didn’t spoil the surprise.
What I didn’t predict about RYLA however was how friendly, welcoming, and approachable you all would be. Walking past this room with the other delegates sat in a cosy circle was extremely daunting, and yes, at that point I was definitely in my stretch zone. However, almost instantly each newly arrived delegate was introduced and engaged with conversation and it didn’t take long until we were all sharing our embarrassing stories, most of which are too inappropriate to tell you now but I’m sure if one of you find Tyler during your evening he might just tell you what he did in a swimming pool. We also moved on to talking about our proudest moments so far and the bar was set very high. Yazmina had taken a selfie with a camel, Charlie had attended a royal dinner and if I remember correctly Ollie had served tea to Duncan Bannatyne from Dragons Den, he complained so I hope your tea making skills have improved over the course of this week. But I think we all can honestly say that we have made ourselves and each other so proud over the course of this week and we will have many examples to use, one of mine being having the opportunity to stand in front of you today.
I do not think we could have kept up that momentum without our fantastic tutors, so a huge thank you to Laura, Queen of the Red Team, for dealing with our questionable sense of humour, to Chris for putting up with the snapchat photos around camp from blue team, to Rachel for keeping calm when the yellow team had not returned from the pub and to Ryan for taking being dumped into the lake by the green team like a champ. I think we also owe a huge thank you to Emma for managing to oversee this whole week, I don’t think I have met a better time keeper because that programme was tight. Obviously I think it goes without saying that Ken, [Billington, the Rotarian in Residence] we all will miss having a keen photographer follow us around catching us during our best and worst times, some possibly being bums in the air whilst walking the plank, hyperventilating in the water when our funboat capsized or during the raft competition when it starts to get really complicated who is who in the photo. Also for facilitating the whole week for us and for always putting a smile on our face. And to all of the instructors who were very patient when explaining things over and over again until we confidently understood, thank you. Obviously, thank you to the rotarians as none of this would have been possible without your investments, time and belief is us as young leaders. We hope that we have made you proud and we will continue to do so.
Whilst we have been led by great examples from our tutors and course leaders, I feel we have all developed so much that it will not be long until we are all leading by example and inspiring the next generation of leaders too. On the first night, we all set targets and goals for ourselves, ones that we would like to reach at the end of the week. Mine were to be more decisive and to have faith in those decisions, to be more resilient when facing unfamiliar and challenging tasks, to be more confident when leading a group of adults and to adapt my mentality and approach from an “I can’t” to an “I can”. I definitely think I have improved on those in unimaginable amounts, improvements of which could have taken years to realise let alone years to work on and even though this intense environment and course was a little intimidating to begin with, I am and I am sure we all are very thankful. I know I won’t be scared to take on new challenges and opportunities that are potentially out of my comfort zone. I will be thinking more rationally and logically about the decisions I make and know that as a leader, as long as I have the best intentions and have thought things through it will be a good decision. I know that I am not going to give up on getting to where I want to be in life as I will constantly have the reminder that if you stop covering the holes on a pipe filled with water, the water will empty out and you won’t be able to reach the top. I have also learnt how important it is to support your team and keep motivating them through the tough and challenging times.
In preparation for RYLA, I was told it would be a lifechanging experience, a statement that I thought was a marketing tool and could not possibly be true. How could a week away from home with strangers have that much of an impact? I genuinely believe this week has had more impact on the way I think about myself and the people around me than most other of my life experiences. Not only have I seen myself grow immensely but I have watched my team and all of you flourish over the past week as leaders but also in themselves as people. Talk to your friends, your family or your team about your leadership, get some feedback, criticisms and compliments to continue moving forward- admittedly it does not need to be around a camp fire until 2am. RYLA has been an unforgettable experience, and I know for a fact that I have high expectations of any future course I attend, and none will live up to the RYLA experience. A leader is somebody who inspires others, to dream more, to learn more, to do more and to become more and I can’t think of anybody in this room that does not fit that definition.

Emily has also written an article about her RYLA experience for a wider audience.

She has generously allowed Novus to publish it here on our website.

2017’s Rotary Young Leadership Award (RYLA) at Grafham Water Centre has been nothing short of a life changing experience. It was first marketed to me earlier this year at a meeting with the Rotary Club of Leicester Novus as just that- lifechanging, a character building leadership course where young people from District 1070 can network as young professionals. What they had failed to tell me was that we would be walking into the early hours of a torrentially rainy morning on our first evening, going on an overnight 18km plus expedition and that I would get an egg that we had named Elijah launched into my face by my own team mate. All of which, we are very proud to say we resiliently completed. I am glad they did not spoil the surprise.

One of my first concerns was regarding the people, who would I be spending my week with? Would we get along? However, it was impossible to predict how friendly, welcoming and approachable all of the young people and staff alike would be. Admittedly, the prospect of walking into the delegate lounge on arrival was a daunting thought, and we were all momentarily out of our comfort zone. However, it was not long until we were sharing our embarrassing stories, our proudest moments and were talking through our anxieties about the week- we were immediately at ease and it felt like a family from the offset. This bond set the benchmark for the rest of the week and we tackled some of the most challenging tasks together, as a team. We learnt how to kayak, canoe and sail. We learnt how to make a successful business through leadership and teamwork. We completed many initiative based tasks, some harder than others, and we had ample opportunities to openly discuss our progression, improvement and successes.

We could not have kept up our determination, motivation and momentum without the fantastic and supportive team at Grafham Water Centre. Our team tutors tolerated our questionable sense of humour, our impatience to get to the pub and our tendency to push them in the lake. Needless-to- say, they stood by us and encouraged us to continue to challenge ourselves, to meet our goals and to grow as individuals. Emma Casey, the Course Director, was equally as supportive. The whole course ran like clockwork, and that does not happen without dedicated planning and genuine enthusiasm. Ken Billington, our Rotarian in Residence, helped facilitate the week and always put a smile on our face when taking photos of us in often compromising positions. The instructors had a tough job but they were patient, understanding and encouraging in equal measure and without them half of the week would not have been possible. The course was evidently led by great example and after our week of development, learning and improvement, it will not be long before us, the delegates, are leading similarly, as inspirers, tutors and supporters.

The beginning of the week saw us set targets and goals for ourselves and our teams. They varied from wanting to become more decisive and to have faith in those decisions, to becoming more resilient and to have an “I can” approach rather than an “I can’t”. All of the delegates improved in unimaginable amounts, developments of which could have taken years to realise let alone years to work on, and this intensive yet invaluable week provided the perfect springboard to start this journey. No longer will we be afraid to step out of our comfort zone. We will be thinking rationally and logically about our decisions and will have belief in the path that we choose. We will no longer give up on a task or a goal no matter how impossible it may initially seem, with a specific task providing the perfect example that if you stop covering holes on a pipe, the water will never reach the top. We will continue to support our team because without team spirit and motivation, the bumps in the road seem larger than they actually are.

RYLA has had an impact on our lives, one that you will only truly understand if you are a Rylander yourself. Whether you are 18 or 26, get in contact with your local Rotary Club and show your interest, it will be one of the proudest achievements of your life and will stay with you forever. A leader is somebody who inspires others to dream more, to learn more, to do more and to become more, and after this week, all of us fit that definition. Thank you to our Rotary sponsors, without you, your time and your dedication none of this would have been possible. We hope we have and continue to make you proud. 

Emily York, Sponsored by the Rotary Club of Leicester Novus


Emily was known to the Rotary Club because she has helped us build a Peace Garden at Falcons Primary School where she is a Community Sports and Arts Coordinator.

Thank you, Emily… You did us proud!