Students learn the "soft skills" of leadership at CNN camp

Cross Creek student Antonio Trey Mixon (left) and Davidson Fine Arts Magnet School student Dallas Hayes attended a leadership camp at CNN in June.

Two Richmond County students spent a week this summer living on the Georgia Tech campus and mingling with CNN executives and anchors, learning the skills of networking and communicating.


Antonio Trey Mixon, 17, is a rising senior at Cross Creek High School, and Dallas Hayes, 16, is a rising junior at Davidson Fine Arts Mag­net School. They were among 75 Georgia students chosen to participate in “Leader­ship Unplugged: A CNN Experience” sponsored by 21st Century Leaders, a nonprofit that works to teach high school students about leadership.

More than 180 students went through a rigorous application and interview process and had to submit recommendations from business and school leaders.

Antonio and Dallas said the program has changed their perspective on how to succeed in the world of business and media.

“Networking is everything,” Dallas said. “This program really taught me how important it is to make good connections with people.”

The students had “Lunch & Learn” each day with a rotation of CNN executives, producers and anchors who would answer questions, from how they landed their first jobs to what skills students should learn to be marketable. The answers were surprising, Antonio said.

“They’re pretty normal; they were really just like me,” he said. “I thought they would have had to go through big obstacles or something.”

Antonio said the adults he talked with emphasized the importance of working hard no matter what and finding a passion for your work.

Dallas said hearing the executives’ stories about how they reached their positions has helped him work toward his own future.

“If you want to do something in life, you have to work hard for it, and if you keep doing it, you can achieve it,” he said.

Prissy Stewart, the assistant director at 21st Century Leaders, said the organization was started to teach such lessons.

The group was started 20 years ago by Georgia business leaders who were having trouble teaching their new employees what Stewart calls the “soft skills” of leadership.

“The kids are not being graded, and it gives them a chance to try these skills out in real networking situations,” she said.

Dallas said he was inspired by how generous the professionals at CNN were with the students, and it has inspired him to act the same when he is in their position.

“If I was their age, I would do this, too, helping students learn about leadership,” he said. “I want to be able to do that for other people someday.”

Antonio is headed to Lips­comb University to study information technology in 2013, and Dallas plans to study engineering at Georgia Tech.

Antonio said the 21st Century Leaders program has taught him that all the knowledge in the world is useless without leadership.

“Leadership is the most important thing in life,” he said. “You need it to get everyone on board for whatever you’re trying to accomplish.”