Oak Knoll Juniors Learn Leadership Skills at the 2022 HOBY Leadership Conference

Liandra Taylor ’24 with OKS alum Emma Shirkey ’18, who is the HOBY director of junior staff.

Two Oak Knoll rising juniors Liandra Taylor ’24 of Newark and Nesa Shamdasani ’24 of Little Falls learned the ins and outs of how to become affective leaders this summer through the annual Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership Conference held June 24-26, 2022, at Kean University. Taylor was selected as Oak Knoll’s HOBY Conference primary tenth grade representative. 

Founded in 1958, HOBY inspires and develops youth to a life dedicated to leadership, service, and innovation. Their leadership development programs empower high school students to become dynamic leaders and lead lasting change in their communities. 

HOBY programs are conducted annually throughout the United States, serving more than 10,000 local and international high school students. The program allows student to participate in unique leadership training, service-learning and cultural experiences. 

Taylor said the conference’s personal leadership activity taught her how better manage her time. 

“My weakness was time management, so during the weekend, and even after, I began to set daily schedules and due dates so I can stay on task as well as on time,” said Taylor, who also solved an escape room as part of a group leadership activity. 

“We all had to have great communication and be very inclusive so we can listen to each other’s ideas. During the service activity we created many birthday cards for children in the foster care system,” she said. 

Taylor is thankful to have attended the HOBY Conference and for the training she learned, especially on how to be an affective leader.

“Leadership skills are important to learn during high school because when you become an adult in the real world, you won’t have anyone to rely on except for yourself,” said Taylor.

“To be able to help and guide others, you need to have leadership skills. It would be difficult to be a leader in different settings if you have no experience. My biggest takeaway from this amazing experience would be that not everything will go smoothly and go the way you plan. There will always be obstacles and bumps in the road, but the way you react to solve them shows how you present yourself as a leader,” she said. 

Nesa Shamdasani ’24 is pictured with her group during the HOBY leadership conference.

Shamdasani’s biggest takeaway from the conference was how important it is to ask questions. 

“There were about five speakers who came to share their knowledge with us, and each speaker brought a new idea or aspect of leadership,” Shamdasani said “During speaker debriefs in our groups I found that asking questions and speaking up was honestly the best way to learn. Ambassadors and speakers alike all had great opinions to share so it was super important to keep an open mind during the whole conference.” 

Another important skill Shamdasani learned was learning how to take action toward getting something done. 

“We all have imaginative ideas about our future and things we want to accomplish but personally I never knew where to start,” she said. “Attending the HOBY conference gave me a better idea of how to centralize my effort towards truly getting somewhere depending on what I want to do. It taught me who I can reach out to first in my community and then who can help to expand these ideas to take it to the next level.” 

The bonds Taylor created during the conference is one of the main reasons she recommends it to future Oak Knoll students.

“It’s also a great way to network with other people, such as alums, speakers, and more. This program helped me gain more confidence in my own leadership skills,” said Taylor. “It was such a fun learning experience that I will always remember.” 

Shamdasani also recommends this conference to Oak Knoll’s incoming sophomore class. 

“Being thrown into a weekend with so many kids from all over New Jersey can certainly be intimidating, but the things I learned, and relationships built were lifelong,” she said. “Everyone there feels the same nervous feeling as you do but, in the end, I think every group was able to come together and form a bond. I am still in contact with so many of the people I met there, we have even supported each other after the conference. This just shows how much of an effect the conference had on all of us to make a change. It was truly an inspiring weekend for me and hope it will be to others!”

headshot of Oak Knoll Head of School Jennifer G. Landis.