GUEST BLOG: Being an OYA winner

By 2014 Outstanding Young Alumni Recipient, Sara Surani.

Thrills. Excitement. Nerves. Happiness. Outstanding—that is how I would describe my time in New York as an Outstanding Youth Alumni recipient. It is an incredible feeling when you are helping people, but it is even more incredible when you know that you are not alone in this quest! Often, as youth, we are underestimated. It is not foreign to experience a condescending chuckle and a, “You’re too young to change the world!” when explaining our life goals and dreams to our elders. However, I never let this get me down! HOBY (and Dr. Suess!) taught me that I have a brain in my head and feet in my shoes, and I can steer myself in any direction I choose, and unless someone like me cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better, it’s not.

My lessons from HOBY inspired me to set out and help create a program, iConquer, to educate three to six year-olds about a pressing health issue in our community—diabetes. As our program impacted thousands of young minds in the South Texas, I started falling in love with public service. Eventually, days became weeks and weeks became months, and iConquer became a part of who I am—iConquer transformed into my identity.

Originally, I applied for the OYA award because I wanted others to realize iConquer’s mission and help us create happier, healthier communities across the nation. I never envisioned that I would win, so receiving an enthusiastic phone call from the HOBY headquarters about my acceptance was more than thrilling! However, the actual thrill and excitement that stemmed from the gala in New York was beyond my wildest imagination!10154518_10202692562287874_6538152743378019765_n

10300308_10202697476850735_4756506211214580819_nThe gala was held in The Plaza in New York City. (Yes, the same Plaza that Eloise would play hide-n-seek in!) Hundreds of esteemed guests attended, including former Miss America Kirsten Haglund and Inside Edition’s Megan Alexander.


It was incredibly enlightening to meet so many outstanding individuals who have a similar mission to make the world a better place. Talking to Rodney O’Neal, Sheila Smith, Governor Haley Barbour, and the inspiring Virginia Newsome was a gift in itself.10271349_10152395065916575_8529809379300357982_o10270551_10152390156411575_3639905766676143341_n

It was breathtaking to meet such beautiful, inspirational souls. Throughout the night, I engaged in deep conversations with strangers from all over the nation, learning about their dreams and aspirations, and exchanging my own in return. 10294404_10202697476810734_240012164362539643_nOne man was so inspired by iConquer that he offered me a scholarship to bring my program to the East Coast! It was OUTSTANDING! Finally, as per tradition, Virginia and I sang in the choral ensemble. Motivational lyrics from Wicked’s For Good resonated throughout the ballroom and sparked compassion in mind, leaving me with a message that I still hold close to my heart:


“I’ve heard it said, that people come into our lives for a reason, bringing something we must learn. And we are lead to those who help us most to grow if we let them, and we help them in return…”