Maurits Acosta at the LEAD Conference in November. Photo by Allyssa Hynes/NASSP.

It was close to midnight on March 7th. I stood in the East Room of the White House as a delegate representing Florida to the 62nd annual U.S. Senate Youth Program. Just a few months earlier, I walked through the very same room on a public tour of the White House as a member of the NASSP LEAD Student Advisory Committee, helping to organize the premier national student leadership conference. This time, though, it was different. We had just finished watching the 2024 State of the Union and were eagerly awaiting a “surprise” they had for us.

A few minutes passed, and through the door walked the President of the United States, Joe Biden. I couldn’t believe it. He spoke to us for about half an hour, but one particular phrase stood out to me. He said, “For many of us, our time in Washington is coming to an end. I think the time has come for you all to lead.” He was right, it is our turn to lead.

It’s time our generation gets together and maximizes the impact we can all make on our schools, communities, and country. The first step to making an impact is by getting students involved. If you are reading this, you are probably an active member of an NHS, NJHS, or NASC chapter. Or perhaps you are a school administrator with one of these clubs on your campus. Unfortunately, many students are not civically involved in their communities or don’t even know where to start. The buck cannot stop with us. We must expose as many students as possible to civic opportunities to effectively develop the next generation of our nation’s leaders. Help your peers and your students get more involved and encourage your school to provide students with different opportunities to lead and give back to others.

If you are a student thinking about pursuing leadership opportunities, my top piece of advice would be to say, “Yes!” Apply for that officer position on your local NHS, NJHS, or NASC chapter. Say yes to that internship with a local business. Say yes to volunteering for that nonprofit organization that’s making a difference in your community. I highly encourage you to develop your network as it will set you up for success in the future.

Life is not all about what you know but also who you know. A great way to manage your network and expand your leadership roles is by using a social media platform like LinkedIn to connect with the many adults and professionals your current roles may expose you to. You never know if any of these folks may be able to help you continue your leadership journey through high school or college. I also encourage you to speak up. The truth is that when students speak up, adults listen. Advocate for what you are passionate about and use the leadership positions in which you may serve to do good for peers and community.

I have been fortunate to have had the opportunity to get involved with many national, state, and local student advocacy and leadership organizations throughout high school. Most recently, I was elected to represent over 330,000 students as Student Advisor to the School Board of Miami-Dade County for the 2024–25 school year. In this role, I hope to expand opportunities for students in my school district to lead and get more civically involved within their schools. I realize that our district is developing tomorrow’s leaders and must instill the important values of service and civic duty at a young age. My time as a member of my school’s student government association and as founder of a Miami-based 501(c)(3) civic education nonprofit have shown me the varied needs of students from across my county. I hope to take these experiences and understandings with me to the school board to properly represent the students of Miami-Dade.

The future is today. Students must realize it is our turn to lead and take advantage of the many service opportunities that exist across our country to get more involved and effect positive change in their schools and communities. Remember to say yes, and always open the door when opportunity comes knocking.

About the Author

Maurits Acosta is a junior at Hialeah-Miami Lakes Sr. High School in Hialeah, FL, and a former member of the NASSP LEAD Student Advisory Committee. He is the incoming Student Advisor to the School Board of Miami-Dade County, FL, and the 2024 National PTA Outstanding Youth Advocate of the Year.