• Marriage in Maine

Guest Post - Rachel Epperly, New Leaders Project Intern

John McKenna's picture
Written by John McKenna
September 8, 2014 - 10:50am

New Leaders Project - Summer Session Graduation 
Guest Post from Rachel Epperly - New Leaders Project Intern

The morning of my high school graduation, my dog, Buttons, escaped from the house just as my family piled into a three car caravan. I took off down the driveway and into the cul-de-sac in front of our house, teetering on a pair of uncomfortable too-high heels, my bright blue robe blowing behind me as I ran. Twenty minutes and one pair of discarded heels later, Buttons was back in the house and we were on our way to graduation. It wasn’t until we turned out of our subdivision that I realized that those too-high pair of heels were still in the grass outside of my house. 

Thankfully I somehow managed to make it to the New Leaders Project graduation ceremony without an escapee puppy or a forgotten pair of shoes. For the closing session of the six week youth leadership and community organizing development based program, participants from Bangor and Portland gathered together in Portland at the University of Southern Maine’s Center for Sexualities and Gender Diversity. 

Following an engaging debrief, a lunch complete with rainbow frosted cupcakes, and an interactive training on values based leadership, five students from Bangor and seven from Portland gathered on the steps of the college’s amphitheater. As the intern for the Bangor sessions, I had the honor of passing out graduation certificates with Maggie and Erica, the program’s two Portland interns, along with Beth Allen, the Program Director. As their name was called, each participant would walk down the amphitheater steps where they were then greeted with a hug from Beth, a certificate and a signed copy of Out and Allied from their session’s intern, and flash drive complete with powerpoints and pictures from each of the six sessions.

After the more formal portion of the ceremony came to a close, the interns took it upon ourselves to present our participants with personalized superlatives. From “most likely to become a first-rate lawyer and create change across the universe” to “most likely to be a millionaire philanthropist,” each new leader was gifted a personalized rainbow certificate of achievement. Countless camera flashes and rounds of applause later, the interns and participants joined together to present Beth with a bouquet of flowers and a personalized card detailing our appreciation for all of the work she put in to ensure the success of the New Leaders Project. 

As a South Carolina native with only three months of Maine under my belt, the ceremony meant so much more to me than just recognizing the achievements of the participants I’d gotten to know over the course of the summer. Growing up in a very conservative state, I learned early on that being LGBT wasn’t something that was talked about, much less appreciated. The New Leaders Project gave me the opportunity to get involved in a program that not only appreciates the LGBT community, but celebrates the dedication and abilities of a fantastic group of young LGBT advocates. The New Leaders Project gave me a chance to work with the future leaders of the movement, a chance to re-energize and envision a future where every young person has the opportunity to organize, advocate, and lead.

Even though the summer sessions came to a close -- even though the rainbow cupcakes were devoured and the certificates distributed -- I know that the 2014 summer term of the New Leaders Project is never really going to end. The participants from Bangor and Portland are going to take what they’ve learned and develop those skills directly within their communities. I look forward to all of the wonderful things that I know this passionate group of young leaders is going to accomplish and the positive and lasting impacts they are going to make on their communities. I’m so thankful that I had the chance this summer to learn and grow alongside them. 

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