Alumni Spotlight: Kyle Wingfield

For our 35th anniversary, we’ll be sharing the stories of 35 alumni showcasing the leaders they are today and how 21st Century Leaders inspired and impacted their journey. Alumni will represent the 3.5 decades since our founding in 1989 – the 1990s, 2000s, 2010s, and 2020s. Take a read and be inspired!

35th Anniversary Alumni Spotlight


1990’s Decade
: Kyle Wingfield
H.S. Grad Year: Class of 1997
High School: Dalton High School
College: University of Georgia
Current Role: President and CEO, Georgia Public Policy Foundation

How has your career unfolded and how did participating in 21CL help prepare you for your next steps going to college, taking on a new leadership role in community/college and after?

After my time in 21st Century Leaders (21CL) (high school class of 1997), I graduated from the University of Georgia and pursued a career in journalism that took me to the Associated Press, the Wall Street Journal and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, including 4.5 years overseas in Belgium. In 2018, I changed careers and became CEO of an Atlanta-based think tank called the Georgia Public Policy Foundation. Looking back, I can see clear ways that my participation in 21CL helped me. For example, I became more comfortable speaking not only in front of groups, but also one-on-one with adult business executives. I also learned a lot about different personality types and how people within those various types see the world differently. And just generally, I would say 21CL was a key part in helping a small-town boy like me see a much larger world and understand more possibilities.

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

While I had a racially diverse group of friends growing up, my hometown overall was not a hugely diverse place during my childhood – although that has changed significantly over time. 21CL was an experience that helped me learn what it’s like to be among people of diverse backgrounds: not only in the small group that I might choose, but in a broader sense as well. I remember things like a member of the staff team one year teaching us in the evenings about step shows. Of course, we found that we had more things in common than not, but being exposed to some of the differences gave me a comfort level as well as an awareness that helped me be a better citizen of my surroundings as my surroundings changed.

Did 21CL assist you in developing a leadership style that makes you an effective leader? If so, how? 

I try to lead by example and by consensus: I model the behavior I expect from my team, and I seek their buy-in for important decisions or changes. The exercises, discussions and experiences in 21CL contributed to those elements of my leadership style.

Why do you believe programs like 21CL are important? And what advice would you give to a current or future student?

Whether one grows up in a small town or an urban area, young people tend to take a more constrictive view of the world than they may realize. They are largely limited by their observations and experiences. That applies to their horizons, which dictate how they view opportunities and possibilities. But it also applies to their self-conception: They may believe they are only what they have been, which is shaped by the people and influences they’ve known. Today’s technologies may broaden their opportunities to know more people and influences than those nearby – for better and for worse – but young people still need ways to try out new versions of themselves in constructive, nurturing environments. I firmly believe programs like 21CL allow them to do just that, because these programs let them break out of the molds that have built up around them. These programs are opportunities for what we might call positive rebelliousness: going against what they’ve always known and been, but in ways that build them up rather than put them at risk.

Inspired? Share this story with your network.

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!