Libby student reflects on GEAR UP conference

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Jaycee Thornock, left, at the Youth Leadership Conference through GEAR UP. (Photo provided)

Upcoming Libby High School senior Jaycee Thornock attended the Youth Leadership Conference through GEAR UP (Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs) on July 13-17.

She was accompanied by Deanna Malyevac, GEAR UP Liaison for Libby. They flew to San Francisco for the conference, but that’s not all they did. Their hotel was in Union Square, the heart of San Francisco, allowing them to partake in all the activities San Francisco has to offer. They, along with five other GEAR UP representatives and students from Montana, were able to ride the cable car through Union Square, try different types of food, experience city life, and create friendships with people from their own state they may not have ever met. Thornock and Malyevac even took the opportunity to go see the Broadway show “Hamilton.”

Thornock said she could not pick a favorite part of the experience: “It was all so amazing. It still doesn’t even feel real I met all of these wonderful people and had this experience.”

This year’s conference theme was “The Way of the Equity Warrior,” which included over 2,200 GEAR UP representatives from 42 states. During this conference put on by NCCEP and the company Seeds, Thornock met around 200 other GEAR UP students from across the nation.

The students learned about what it takes to be a leader through activities and speeches from people like Jeannette Walls, author of “The Glass Castle,” and Vijay Gupta, former violinist of the L.A. Philharmonic now working with “Street Symphony.”

“The week was filled with fun, but it wasn’t all like that. I definitely cried a lot throughout it. I feel as though I have changed for the better through this,” Thornock said.

During the conference, Seeds actually brought in wooden boards for the students to write one thing they wanted to overcome. They then could choose whether they wanted to break it with their hand or their foot.

“I think that was probably my favorite part of the experience. It made me feel pretty awesome and emotional at the same time. It was just a very powerful exercise and I think it spoke volumes to the other students as well,” Thornock said. “We also got pretty real and vulnerable with each other, even though we were only there for a short amount of time. I probably know more about some of those people than their friends in their home state and I feel so connected to them even now. I know their story and they know mine. Those people had such a strong impact on me, it’s unbelievable. I wish I could live it all over again.”

GEAR UP is in its ninth year at Libby Schools. Montana GEAR UP believes that postsecondary education is possible for all Montana students, regardless of economic background. The program supports schools, students, and their families to increase students’ college and career readiness through academic preparedness, postsecondary planning, and financial aid knowledge.

Learn more at https://mus.edu/gearup/ or contact GEAR UP Liaison Deanna Malyevac at malyevacd@libbyschools.org with any questions.

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