Nearly 1,700 Latino teens, parents, teachers and volunteers gathered at Emory University on Saturday, Nov. 9, 2013 for the LAA’s 14th Annual Latino Youth Leadership Conference. The day offered motivational speakers, workshops and activities geared to motivating students to go to college and pursue careers.

At the opening ceremony at the Woodruff Physical Education Center, youth motivational speaker Gabe Salazar related his personal story and roused an excited crowd of middle and high school students, urging them to get an education and to dream big and not just wish.

“When you have a dream you can see the steps that it takes to make it happen,” said Salazar, who is the top Latino youth motivational speaker in the country. “Every big thing starts small.”

Guest speaker and AT&T research scientist Dr. Alicia Abella, assistant vice president of technical research at AT&T, also took to the stage at the opening ceremony and encouraged students to be themselves. “You are all unique and you all bring something unique to the table,” she told them.

Nearly-1700-participants-youth-conference2Throughout the day, students attended a variety of workshops, featuring topics such as how to pay for college, how to complete the college application and how to build your brand. Some students attended exhibits at Emory’s Michael C. Carlos Museum and others went to presentations where Emory students created snow and demonstrated how fun chemistry experiments can be. At the College and Career Fair, conference participants visited booths of colleges such as Emory, Kennesaw State and Georgia Tech, and of organizations that included the Army ROTC, AT&T, Delta and Univision.

At one of the workshops, University of Georgia senior Manuel Coutinho encouraged ninth grade students to go to college and to be leaders. “We have to be a role model for our families,” said Coutinho, adding that he was the first generation in his family to go to college. “I know what [the students] are thinking. Growing up, I didn’t even think about college. My family pushed me to go to college.”

Wendy Rodriguez, who attended the youth conference two years ago as a high school junior, is now a freshman at Emory. She volunteered this year as a mentor-guide.

“My mom works as an assistant operator at a recycling plant,” Rodriguez told WABE. “She comes home every day so tired and she stands up every day. And I don’t want her to live that anymore. So, I want to become someone very important and help others and also help my parents.”

This year, Buford Middle School and Buford High School took 62 participants to the conference. Anna Misley, a language arts teacher at Buford Middle School, has been taking students to the youth conference for about eight years. She said that the conference is a life-changing event. “The conferences keep getting better and better,” she added. “This last one was the best one thus far.”

AT&T was once again the conference’s presenting sponsor. Ralph de la Vega, president and CEO of AT&T Mobility, said that underprivileged youth face many challenges today. “Supporting the great work of organizations like the Latin American Association is just one way we show our youth that they can dream big and have brilliant futures,” he said. “It is our responsibility to mentor our young men and women and steer them in the right path to college readiness and success.”

FALL 2013