Graduating Leaders in the Community
Members of the Leadership Greater Vidalia adult class gathered at Durden Cabin at Partin Park on Friday, April 14, to present their final projects, which reflect what they have learned during the course, and to officially graduate from the program.
The morning may have been filled with nerves and emotions, but an atmosphere of joy took over the room, as Leadership Greater Vidalia Chairs Kailey Dees and Rizza O’Connor spoke to each graduate individually, sharing their own superlatives for that participant.
“Reverend Fleek,” as he was titled by the co-chairs, never goes anywhere that he is not dressed for success. “As we know, he is always dressed to impress,” Dees emphasized.
“Kendall, you said something in your presentation that made sense with how you’re always dressed to impress and always ready,” she continued. “You said that you felt like, in the beginning, you didn’t belong in the class. But you talked about how you dress for where you want to be and improvement methods you have planned. Even though you are old school, you have timeless taste.”
Branch was depicted by the co-chairs as being the “Future Leadership Greater Vidalia Chair” because of her passion for investing in her community. “During her presentation, she talked about making that decision – like many of us – to come back and be a big fish in a small pond. There are so many times that people see that as a negative thing, but you have really taken it and run with it,” Dees told Branch. “You talked about intentionally giving of yourself, so I know where you’re going to intentionally give yourself in a few years when you swim back to lead at home and cultivate new leaders.”
Described as being the “Networking Ninja,” Crutchfield was recognized for her value of building relationships between people in the community. “Your presentation talked about meeting new people and becoming even more active in the community,” Dees told Crutchfield. “I think we see how well you’ve networked when we see your signs everywhere, and I know you will continue to do well with what you do.”
Noted for her bright and vibrant attitude, Farmer was given the “Bubbles Award” by the co-chairs. “Every time you are around her, you just want to smile,” Dees emphasized. “In your presentation, you talked about being a ball of energy, and I just think that throughout this program, everything that you have touched has been that. You always asked good questions, you always had a way of making people feel good about themselves, you bring people together – you’ve just been wonderful.”
Freenor was applauded on his ability to promote peace in those around him, as he was deemed the class’s “Nobel Peace Prize Winner.”
“As he moderated for his group and really brought the bigger picture together, it was very obvious, that is what you see in someone who brings people together and brings world peace,” Dees explained.
She continued, “In your presentation, you talked about being a ‘culture changer,’ and that is what you see in your attributes. One of the attributes you have that carries over into everything you do is that you leave it better than you found it. You look to people and see the good – you put yourself in their shoes and I think we can all learn from that.”
Kight, whom the cochairs called the “Human Fire Extinguisher,” was celebrated for his ability to handle conflict and spur of the moment circumstances. “I think we all knew coming in that Jordan puts out fires, but I think we saw how much that happens. When you see it firsthand, I think it makes you appreciate it that much more,” Dees said. “It’s what you do every day – put out fires. Yet, in doing that, you work to make it better. So often, after you’ve put out fires, you walk away from it. But Jordan cares enough that he wants to make it better and help improve the lives of those he deals with every day.”
According to the cochairs, Lane was among the friendliest in the class, earning him the “Smile & Wave Award.”
“His smile and wave are always sincere and always real,” Dees emphasized.
“From the moment I met you – and I bet from the moment everyone else met you – you greeted with a smile, a wave, and a hug. There is something to be said for someone who can always make you feel comfortable and welcome – that is your gift, and you know it because you do it well,” she continued. “I have seen Michael at so many places throughout the community doing the same thing and doing it well. You are the kind of person that lifts other people up.”
Daisy Manning and Tiffany Yancey
Manning and Yancey were highlighted together during the graduation, as the co-chairs shared that the pair reminded them of their own friendship, which is why they dubbed them “Leadership Greater Vidalia Galentines.”
“Rizza and I have really grown in our friendship and it is really special,” Dees began. “We were already friends before this, but going through this, we have grown closer and we love the fact that our two girls who work for us have grown closer and built a friendship like that.”
She added, “When I am telling people about this program, I tell them that it puts you in front of people who have similar goals and that you are so similar in ways that you’d never guess. You’d probably never have met if it was not for this, and then you just kind of join together and create a friendship that is so special. To see how y’all have grown together, it is really special and what the program is about. I know y’all will go out and continue your friendship.”
Depicted by the cochairs as the “Energy Bus Driver,” McCloud was highlighted for his enthusiasm throughout the class. “During his presentation, he talked about having a ‘game plan’ – that is what you want out of a bus driver: someone who knows where we’re going, who knows the plan, and wants everybody along for the ride,” Dees told the group. “When talking about characteristics, he talked about his optimism, being a motivator, and wanting to execute. So, thank you for being the energy bus driver of our group.”
Celebrated for her enthusiasm and joy for others within the community, Nobles was given the “Super Fan” superlative. “You are who everybody wants on their team cheering for them; you are like the #1 cheerleader,” Dees emphasized. “You are seen as the biggest supporter, the biggest cheerleader. You take the bull by the horns and you do it. What you’re involved in, you’re passionate about. What you’re doing, you become – in a good way – obsessed with it, and you bring other people in – and that is what truly brings about change in the community.”
Depicted as being the “Leadership Greater Vidalia Bestie,” Salter was recognized for the stability and friendship which he brought to the group. “You are just everybody’s bestie,” Dees told him. “You are so steady. You used two words [in your presentation] to really define yourself as a trusted companion to the community, but you are such a trusted companion in how you carry yourself. You’re genuine and so empathetic to those around you. When something does hit close to home and impacts you, what you do with that is what really tells the story – you go out and help others.”
Thigpen was celebrated for his loyalty, as the cochairs gave him the “Always on a Call” award. “From a friendship standpoint, I can say that Conner is someone that will answer your call, and I think he demonstrated that in this class,” Dees shared. “He does it because he’s a good friend, he’s loyal, and he cares.”
The co-chairs titled Underwood, “Professor Legal Eagle,” noting her sophistication and knowledge. “When we want to talk about steady and consistent, that’s who a lot of people model after, that’s who they look to mentor them. There’s so many layers to you, but you’re so consistent in what you do and you’re passionate. You walk the line and set an example, and there’s so much to be said about that. You’re such a light,” Dees emphasized.
“Alright, so I think anyone in the class could have guessed this – this is the true ‘Leadership Greater Vidalia Mom,’” Dees said as she introduced Wardlaw.
“When I saw you crying [during presentations], I knew I was right – I saw the tears in your eyes but felt the love in your heart,” she told Wardlaw. “It has nothing to do with age; it has to do with heart. You love so well, and I think that is such a good attribute to have — to be loving — and that’s what you see in mothers and fathers. Thank you for loving this community and wanting to give back.”
Described for her motivation for projects, Warren received the “Go-Getter” superlative. “When you were doing your presentation, you talked about ‘doing things that matter,’ and you have done so many things that matter, and you plan to do more. Sometimes, those types of things don’t always put you in the spotlight, but those are the people who make change a lot are the people you don’t always see on the front lines,” Co-Chair O’Connor remarked. “That is what you have done; when you put your mind to something, you’ve done it.”
Celebrated as being the class’s very own “Jedi,” Zamorano provided the class with skillfulness and knowledge. “When I think about Mario as a Jedi, I think about exceptional skill, exceptional knowledge, exceptional ability, also a rule follower, always dressed well, drives up with a clean car, everything,” Dees explained. “Mario is to the point – he gets it done, and it inspires people. He brings people up to his level with certain things. Thank you for using your passion for your volunteer hours and spending it with our youth. Keep doing it.” Reflections by Co-Chairs
“We feel that you all have grown individually and as a class, and we hope you always remember this moment,” O’Connor told the class, as she emphasized her hope that the participants take what they learned in their experience at Leadership Greater Vidalia and apply it to better themselves, their businesses, and the community.
Dees also reflected on the program’s Class of 2023. “What I learned from y’all this year is awesome. What each of you individually possess, your talents, is incredible. There are so many things we could say about everyone, but thank you for letting Rizza and me be a part of this,” she remarked.
Leadership Greater Vidalia Coordinator Dana Brown added, “I’m very thankful for all that Rizza and Kailey have done for this program. Their energy and passion for growing people in our community is not overlooked.”
Brown noted, “Once we finish today, you are an alumnus of our program. There are going to be things that you go on to do within the community, and there is a prestige that is going to follow behind you as alumni of Leadership Greater Vidalia – carry that with what it’s worth and be a good steward of the program you’ve been through.”