You Got Me Here
Dear Charles Runnels,
I will never be able to send you this letter and get a response back, but the words that are left unwritten are the thoughts that go unheard.
In the last five days, I’ve realized a few things that have made me grateful, but also regretful that I could never tell you these things myself.
Charles Runnels, I would not be the same person without you, nor would I be where I am today. You created the program that changed my life, you inspired my LMU supplement, and you’re one of the most influential people in my life.
After hearing about your passing, I didn’t think I’d cry, but I did. A few times. The more I talked about how I knew you and what you did for me, the more I realized the impact you had on my life. Without you, literally, nothing would be the same.
You created something amazing, a five-day program designed to enhance your potential as a leader and increase your dedication as an informed citizen of the United States. It asks you to dream big, to dream the impossible dream and helps you understand how to turn your dreams into reality. YCS is a truly unique experience that ended up having the greatest impact on my life and so many others.
I was first introduced to you when I got my YCS application, but I saw you for the first time during our initial presentation at the 38th annual Youth Citizenship Seminar, the first day of camp. Sitting in Smother’s Auditorium while blasting, “Best Day Of My Life” from the speakers, we were introduced to you, your daughter, and a few key people, given our schedules, our breakout groups, and were reminded that YCS is what you make of it. No one and nothing can make an impact on your life unless you let it. I had every intention to let YCS change my life, and it did. I was so intrigued by what you created, I was looking forward to talking to you. I was hoping I’d get that opportunity.
Lucky for me, I officially met you when I was walking through the Pepperdine University cafeteria during the first day of camp. We spoke briefly, I thanked you for the opportunity you presented to me, and I told you my name. At this point, I didn’t realize just how great you truly were.
As I mentioned in my LMU supplement, where I come from, it’s cool to be unhappy. It’s cool to hate your school, your teachers, and your life. The pessimism flourishes. It feels like everyone’s disappointed at all times and I always found myself feeling drained when I came home from a school day full of people complaining about how they’re victims of unfortunate circumstance. I don’t know how long it’s been here, but the functional fixedness that lives on our campus is toxic.
Until I met you in June 2015, I thought the world was like this. I was under the impression that life should always feel like you’re swimming against a nasty current that wants to push you back. I was sure that it was impossible to be truly happy, but you taught me that I was wrong.
Mr. Runnels, you helped me realize that happiness is a mindset, that you can either cry about the Diet Coke sprayed all over you on the first day of camp, or you can laugh about it. I was reminded that, yes, life can be difficult, but surviving and thriving are truly about how you think. Optimism is earned by overcoming obstacles. You’ve gotten through each bad day you’ve had, and every day prepares you for tomorrow. In reality, disappointment will always be a part of life; sometimes you’re the bug and sometimes you’re the windshield. Failure is not about how many times you’ve failed, it’s how you handle it. Life is not what happens to you, it’s what you do about it.
I was reminded that success is a daily progression and a journey, not a destination. Success is evolving, continuing to evolve, coming up with new ideas, and always seeking improvement. No one should dwell on who their grandparents were, they should care about who their grandchildren will be.
YCS was all about finding your purpose and serving the world. Focus on happiness and goodness, work to help the bad. For a very long time, I thought I was just a “stupid teenager,” but I’m not. I’m a functioning member of society and just because I’m only eighteen, that doesn’t mean I’m not old enough to see what’s working for me and what isn’t. I can make an impact, so no one should try to limit my boundaries.
Until June 2015, I was the teenager who thought the world was against me, but now I know that the world is by my side. I no longer feel like I’m swimming against a current and I know for a fact that it’s not impossible to be happy.
Mr. Runnels, after those five days at Pepperdine, I was different and people weren’t shy to tell me that. Suddenly I was more driven, happier, and I had a path I knew I wanted to follow. I was presented with new opportunities and was given the platform to share my thoughts with the world. Without you or YCS, my blog wouldn’t exist and I wouldn’t have found my passion for writing. I wouldn’t have taken my favorite class in college and I might not have even gotten into Loyola Marymount. I don’t know where I would be without you, after the worst month of my life so far, it was from the lessons I learned during YCS where I found the strength to continue. Without you, I don’t know if I would’ve continued.
At the end of my first semester of senior year, I had a meeting with my independent project advisor, the assistant principal, and my high school counselor where I explained to them all the work I had been doing for the last semester. I explained over a 45-minute conversation everything I learned from YCS and how it shaped me over a course of 5 days, but I mainly focused on how I learned about choice.
At Pepperdine, I realized that life has a lot of choices, it isn’t always yes or no and it isn’t absolutes. I realized that being able to adapt to your surroundings is one of the most important traits you can have and without it, you will suffer. Improvement is a choice before it’s a process and that decision in itself is one that everyone will face multiple times in their life. People make around 5,000 choices a day. There are no right or wrong ones, but there are some that have more positive outcomes than others. It important to make the choices that are right for you and you shouldn’t get upset with someone for making the right decisions for them, unless they’re doing something truly awful.
I also learned about the decisions that everyone should make.
Decide to make a decision
Always do and be your best, someone is always watching
Be nice and respect everyone you come across
Show up, physically and mentally.
Embrace your uniqueness
Get rid of the clutter, get organized.
Focus, follow one course until you’re successful
Live every day and your life with passion
I live every day thinking about these ten choices and they’ve definitely influenced who I am and who I surround myself with. After YCS, I wasn’t afraid to cut out toxic people.
When I was done with my speech, I was given an A for the semester and I was offered the opportunity to give a speech to the incoming freshmen class about my high school experience. How I was supposed to turn 4 years into 5 minutes is something I’ll never be sure of, but when writing my speech, I opened my YCS notebook and took the 5 lessons that impacted me the most.
In January, I stood in front of a majority of the incoming freshmen class and their parents and explained who I was. An LCE lion, a senior at LCHS, and a person who has seen the high highs and the low lows in life.
I proudly announced that I was a YCS alumni, which didn’t resonate with the crowd the most, but it was by far my proudest accomplishment.
I went on to explain to the crowd that I wasn’t there to tell them that high school will be easy, breezy, beautiful because I knew it wouldn’t be for any of them. Often times, people won’t tell you about the hits, they’ll only describe the highs, but my life has never been the rollercoaster that is always going up. As I’ve touched upon, I grew up feeling unfulfilled. I usually felt unhappy, and whenever I thought I could be happy, I would get tossed back into this pit of uncertainty. I was in a constant state of feeling worthless and I couldn’t find much within myself, which wasn’t good enough for me.
At this point, I started telling them about the five most important things I had to learn myself, the things I wished someone had told me when I was their age.
1. Be your own best friend.
2. Find your purpose and find your balance.
3. Get happy
4. Don’t be afraid to swerve
5. Be the best version of you
I reminded them that they shouldn’t worry about messing up and failing doesn’t mean they're a failure. If they make mistakes, they are not a mistake and they should try not to dwell on everything that goes wrong. Learn from mishaps: accept the results, reflect, and continue on. I heard all of these lessons at YCS. I thank God every day that I was given the opportunity to be a part of your program and that I could share my favorite parts with hundreds of people.
Charles Runnels, in life, you either survive your lows or you don’t, but you will if you try hard enough.
After the banquet on the last night of YCS, I had a conversation with you that I will never forget. Emotional after an amazing week and moving closing ceremony, I told you all of my future plans. I explained how I’ve always been passionate about my future, but now I was even more motivated to turn my dreams into reality. After some tears and pictures, all I could do was thank you. From the counselors to the participants, to the speakers, you created a community of the most supportive people I’ve ever experienced.
Fr. Arrupe, a Spanish Jesuit priest who served as the twenty-eighth Superior General of the Society of Jesus, once said “our prime educational objective must be to form men and women for others, who believe that a love of self or of God which does not issue forth in justice for the least of their neighbors is a farce”. Fr. Arrupe meant that it’s hard to change the world, but if you can change someone's, you’ve given them the greatest gift you can offer. Mr. Runnels, you turned your own dream into reality by developing a program that has changed 250 incoming seniors’ worlds every summer for 39 years now. The best people in your life are the ones who believe you have something great inside you and challenge you to prove it to yourself. Even if I accomplish everything I plan on doing, I could only hope that someday I’m a fraction of how great you are.
I can and will never be able to thank you enough,
Rap Group 14, Dorm 13, YCS Class of 2015