OGDEN -- Four-hundred fifty high school students arrived Friday at Weber State University for a two-day conference on options they may not have realized they have.
Weber State's first Multicultural Youth Conference, "Preparing for the Real World," offered workshops on careers, planning, proper etiquette, self-esteem, scholarship applications, financing college and dealing with racial and gender stereotypes.
Workshops for the registered students, from the Weber, Ogden and Davis School Districts, continue today, with an overall goal of helping students to expect more from themselves, and to plan and work for lives better than they otherwise might have achieved.
"Some of these students have been told that a four-year college is not an option for them," said Asha Jones, Weber State's Student-to-Student Program coordinator. "These are students who have been told the military or a technical college are their only options. I was an Upward Bound student myself, and I went to a conference like this and knew what a big difference it made in my life."
On Friday morning, students broke into 11 sessions based on age and interests. The first afternoon session broke students into two sessions based on genders.
Shayla Rivera, an actress and stand-up comic who grew up in Puerto Rico then got a degree in aerospace engineering at Texas A&M, talked to the females about self-esteem, ignoring stereotypes, and making your own opinion of yourself count more than that of naysayers.
"Awareness of yourself begins change. You are the one making the decision on how you see yourself," said Rivera, who bills herself as the Funny Rocket Scientist. "Dare to be rare in the choices you make for yourself. Be classy. If you are comfortable in your own skin you are very attractive to the world, so you can change it."
Rivera led students through an exercise in which they chose three adjectives to describe their favorite color, animal and room in their home. (If you'd like to try this exercise yourself, stop reading until you complete your own lists.)
Rivera then revealed that the three words used to describe the favorite animals are really a description of how we see ourselves. The words used to describe the color are really a description of how others see us. The words used to describe a favorite room at home really describe your relationship with your family.
Rivera also shared stories from her life, of times she had accepted other people's beliefs about her and underachieved. Two of her female audience members shared their own stories, of school teachers who had assigned them, as new arrivals to schools, to remedial classes based on their color or country of origin, rather than on their abilities.
In another room in Weber State's Shepherd Union Building, speaker Roderic Land, a University of Utah assistant professor who teaches courses on education and culture and society, addressed the smaller all-male crowd. Land asked his audience for suggestions on the issues they wanted to discuss.
"Women," several teens answered, drawing laughter from the crowd.
One teen said that women spent all his money, which caused Land to ask the young man what he expected in return.
That led to a discussion of money, and what students would spend their money on if they had a $35,000 job. The young men guessed they would spend $700 a month on rent (after Land told them $100 wouldn't do it); $250 on monthly car payments; $3,000 to purchase furniture; $10,000 for a wall-sized television and $1,600 for a sound system; and $150 a month on insurance.
"It's my game, so I'll give you a good rate," Land said.
The young men agreed on $2,000 a year for clothes, $300 a month on food cooked at home, $200 a month for dates and $500 a month for utilities, phone and smaller expenses.
The student charged with keeping track of the math informed group members they were over budget. Land then asked the group what would be the cost of paying for an unplanned pregnancy, including diapers, formula and medical expenses.
"And do any of you have a $35,000 a year job?," he asked his listeners, who said they did not. "Not using protection could be a very expensive decision, and it only takes once."
Land urged his listeners to think about the consequences of the decisions they might otherwise make lightly, and to plan carefully and to work hard to build the kind of lives they will enjoy living.