On March 3, Western Oregon University welcomed about 2,200 students, school staff and chaperones for the 27th annual César E. Chávez Leadership Conference (CECLC), an all-day event meant to inspire Hispanic students to seek leadership roles.
The day’s events started with a welcome and keynote address in the New P.E. building, where the bleachers overflowed with students representing about 10 Oregon counties. Students were nominated for participation by educators at their respective high schools.
“This year’s theme is ‘Change Comes from Within You,’” said Anna Hernández-Hunter, co-chairwoman of the CECLC executive board. “Part of our mission is to empower our youths as leaders for social justice and civic responsibility. This event is often the first time our students begin to see themselves as leaders and begin to develop their social consciousness.”
Western Oregon University President Rex Fuller shared his vision for students while they were on campus last week. WOU is the new permanent home for the yearly event; it has been held here for the past nine years.
“You are the future of this nation,” he told students. “You are the future of this university. You are the future of this state. And we are here to support you.”
This year’s keynote speaker, Roy Juarez Jr., addressed attendees in the morning. Juarez founded the human development firm America’s Business Leaders in 2005. He’d spent part of his youth as a homeless dropout but eventually graduated from Hardin-Simmons University in Texas. Now, he tours the country touting the importance of hope and speaking about the power of higher education.
His message for the sizeable crowd was simple: “Education is freedom,” he said.
During the remainder of morning and early afternoon, students alternated between different sessions, including presentations by speakers, an exhibitor fair and other activities. A few student leaders were able to have lunch with the keynote speaker.
The conference also included competitions in areas such as art, poetry and videos. The winners were announced during the final official session, with each receiving monetary rewards for their efforts. An hour-long dance closed out the activities of the day.
Hernández-Hunter said the main goal of the CECLC is to plant a seed in the mind of students that everyone has the potential to be a leader, even if they’ve never thought of themselves in that way.
“Our hope is that they leave the day with a sense of purpose and direction, ready to implement change in their schools and their communities,” she said.