Alumni Spotlight: Mercy Ogutu

21CL Alumna  Mercy Ogutu is a graduate of Druid Hills High School  (2019) and currently a Senior at Trinity Washington University (2023) double majoring in Political Science and International Affairs. She holds many leadership positions in her college, community and at the national level advocating for policy change in higher education, healthcare and more. During high school she attended our Summer Youth Leadership Institute (SYLI @Goizueta), which sparked her passion for public speaking. Mercy grew up not seeing representation and her goal is to always create and advocate for the environment where everyone feels welcomed, heard, and inspired to lead change

Paint a brief picture of what you are doing now.

I’m Mercy Ogutu, a Senior at Trinity Washington University in Washington, DC, double majoring in Political Science and International Affairs with a minor in Africana Studies. Born in Kenya and raised in Atlanta, Ga, I am a student-leader on campus, in the community, and across the nation. I hold several leadership positions; currently I am the Executive Secretary of the DC College Democrats, Communications Director of the Black Student Alliance, Chairwoman of the Trinity Washington Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, and a Tennis Representative on the NCAA Division III National Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC). On Division III National SAAC, I am in my second term as the Chairwoman on the Diversity and Inclusion Working Group and I am a student-athlete representative on the NCAA Minorities Opportunities and Interests Committee, Interpretations and Legislative Committee, and the Mental Health Advisory Group. I have created and led student-based initiatives focused on professional development, mental health awareness, civic engagement, and increasing diversity and inclusion in athletic, academic, and professional spaces.

On Thursday, January 20th, 2022 at the NCAA 2022 Convention alongside with my fellow panelists, I gave a discussion on the importance of mental health awareness, and of education and recommended practices to support the well-being of student-athletes. This May, I interned for Georgia Senator Jon Ossoff in the United States Senate and in the spring of 2020, I interned for the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, in the House of Representatives. On campus, I am working with my fellow peers to help students navigate career goals, learn networking skills, and to lead change. 

Which programs did you participate in? How did the skills/tools/perspectives you acquired from 21CL prepare you for your next steps, going into college, taking on new leadership roles in your community, college and after?

I participated in the Summer Youth Leadership Institute (SYLI @Goizueta) in 2018 and my favorite part was hearing the different stories of the 40Under40 panelists, unique journeys of finding their passion for their careers and the change they were making in their communities. During the 21CL summer institute, I learned to communicate effectively, use my voice for change, and organize ideas into solutions. I also got inspired to create change in my community, to help students navigate their career interests, acquire leadership skills, and to expand student-based initiatives.

How did participating in 21CL transform you and lead you to where you are now?

21st Century Leaders helped me to see there is no age requirement to be the change you want to see in your community. After my summer at 21st Century Leaders’ summer leadership institute, I started my journey of working towards my goal of going to Washington, DC for school to one day become a policy advisor in higher education policies. I found my voice in wanting to advocate for change in higher education policies after my own struggles of understanding and navigating the cost of college as an immigrant student from a low-income community. 

Do you have a memorable or ‘aha’ moment during your time at 21CL? (Particular program, meeting a professional and diverse peers, speaking in public for the first time, etc.?)

It was at SYLI when I introduced one of the speakers for our workshop that I found my passion for public speaking! Since then, I have gotten to write the commencement speech for my 2019 high school graduation and share my research of educational policies at the House of Representatives, United States Senate, the White House, and at national conferences.

I believe that leadership comes from inspiration, being inspired and inspiring others to find their voice and see their true potential! I grew up not seeing representation and my goal is to always create and advocate for the environment where everyone feels welcomed, heard, and inspired to lead change. Everyone has a story and it’s through those stories we can connect, learn, and grow with each other. 

 21st Century Leaders helped me find my voice and meeting incredible student leaders from across Georgia gave me inspiration to continue making change, however big or small!

Alumni Spotlight: Jevan Huston

JevanHutsonToday’s action challenge in the #21Days of Leadership social media campaign is to highlight a past leader who has made a difference in your life and inspired you to become a leader.

Meet 21CL alum Jevan Hutson, whose inclusive leadership has made a major difference in his community and its members! He attended SYLI (formerly known as G5!) at Emory’s Goizueta Business School in 2011 and served on the 21CL Youth Executive Board (Youth Leadership Team) from 2011-2012.

In addition to inspiring his peers at 21CL programs, Jevan was the recipient of the 2011 Georgia Youth Leadership Awards for his leadership as the 2011-2012 school coordinator for Whitewater High School’s Pennies for Patients, which benefits The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS). Jevan was directly responsible for leading his peers at Whitewater to donate approximately $40,000 over two years, raising enough money to support an LLS-funded researcher for more than 9 months. Read more about current and past Georgia Youth Leadership Award winners here!
#21daysofLeadership #21CL #iamINSPIRED

How did participating in 21st Century Leaders change you and/or lead you to where you are now?

At such a critical juncture in becoming a future leader and citizen-scholar, 21CL granted me a deeper sense of self-value and a more robust confidence to assert and contest my opinions as well as to engage and collaborate with community and industry leaders.

How did 21CL prepare you for your next steps? Going into college and taking on leadership roles, heading into a new era of professionalism, etc. What tool and perspectives have helped you long the way?

First and foremost, 21CL provided me a unique platform for both conceptualizing and operationalizing my academic and professional goals, which was very much integral to my successful transition into undergraduate life at Cornell University. Reflecting back on my experiences in 21CL, particularly now as a Master’s student at Cornell and soon-to-be law student, I can safely say that the program’s focus on collaboration, relationship building and professional networking skills was key not only to my professional development — helping me garner numerous, prestigious internships (Research & Technology Intern at the Boeing Company) and research assistantships during my undergraduate tenure — but also to my successful career as a student leader and community advocate on campus.

What’s something you’ve recently learned about leadership?

Overall, my leadership and service to the Cornell community has taught me that true leadership is interdisciplinary and requires organization that is inclusive and nurturing of all stakeholders. I ground my own pursuit of public service and passion for equity in an ability to be highly self-aware and to engage a practice of conscious activism. I listen deeply to the communities I serve, so that I may center their needs ahead of my own presumptions and understandings. While my own tenacity, advocacy, and intellectual curiosity are valuable and unique, they do not exclude the incorporation of others’ skillsets and the necessity of coalition building. Through inclusive leadership and a recognition of the power of solidarity within the experience of injustice, I learned they are in fact an imperative toward that organization.

Jevan graduated in 2012 from Whitewater High School in Fayetteville, Georgia. He earned his Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) in History of Art (2016) from Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, where he is now pursuing a Master’s Degree in Information Science and guides students as a Teaching Assistant in “Personal Relationships and Technology” and “Information Ethics, Law, and Policy.” #iamINSPIRED