This month marks forty-one years after the 1976 Youth Uprisings in Soweto against an oppressive educational system. We remember the importance of youth leadership. We remember the decisive action and the selflessness of young people like ourselves – those of us who are young in the room, of course.

Good evening. My name is Gugulethu Resha and I am a member of the SAWIP class of 2017. Growing up in Rosettenville, I was often inspired and influenced by the diverse nationalities and cultures that surrounded me. My childhood friendships with fellow Africans who had immigrated to South Africa shaped my curiosity for African countries and later, a passion for African development that would influence many of my involvements in leadership spaces. In 2008, when I first witnessed the xenophobic attacks against fellow Africans, I knew that I wanted to contribute to the strengthening of countries that were otherwise seen as failed or weak.

When I was selected to attend the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls, it was this quality education that would further sediment my passions and open my mind to the infinite possibilities for growth that awaited me. Because of all the support and inspiration that I received throughout school, I was no stranger to the principle of servant leadership which was ingrained in us as aspiring women leaders of South Africa.

This month we celebrate the 1976 youth’s vision for a South Africa that gives its youth a chance to succeed, through a quality, accessible education. We were reminded of this youth once again, in the 2015 and 2016 student protests of Rhodes Must Fall and Fees Must Fall. In a country where only 18% of students enroll to universities and half of that number drops out before graduation, the only way out of poverty for the majority of our country, is closed. And so the rallying cries of “decolonization” and the “decommodification of education” are proof that South Africa’s youth continues to draw on its predecessors to pave the way to an equal society.

But there is a unique quality that I would like to pay attention to tonight – courage. Courage is not a mere buzzword in student activism and leadership rhetoric, but it is an enabling and activating quality. Many people say that amazing things begin with a dream, but I believe that courage is where it all begins. The courage to dream, the courage to believe that one is worthy of something better and that one can achieve better is what has brought all of us together in this room today. We are all committed to the improvement of our communities, our country and ourselves.

The South Africa-Washington International Program has successfully brought together a group of young people who have demonstrated their courageousness time and time again, in pursuit of ways in which we can contribute to our personal growth and that of our country. It takes courage to start a non-profit organization, to lead a student body of over 10 000 students, to go into a community and ask “how can I be of service to you”, to apply for a demanding leadership program in addition to one’s own studies and other commitments… but most of all, it takes courage to say, I still want to learn, I still want to grow, teach me. And I remind myself of this every time I take the metro by myself.

Because of this courage, South Africa finds itself with young leaders who are ready to accept the challenges that await us rather than flee from them. It finds itself with young people who are continuously asking themselves “how can I continue to improve myself so that I can better serve my country?” and it is through this courage that we rise to the expectations and needs of our nation.

Being here in Washington is not merely a perk of being selected on the team – it is an extension of an opportunity to equip us with the skills to bring our dreams to life. It is an opportunity to push ourselves, to meet likeminded professionals and collaborate in our efforts to change our world. It is an opportunity to surround ourselves with people who have made it, to validate our own dreams and to affirm that we are enough. For me, it is being surrounded by incredible women at the National Women’s Law Center, who like myself, are committed to the advocacy of women and children’s development.

Esteemed guests, SAWIP is no ordinary organization, it is one of the vital organs to this animal that is youth leadership, and what better way to nurture it than by affording the youth opportunities and support. That been said, thank you all for supporting our dreams and enabling us to continue the legacies of commendable youth leadership in South Africa. Let us continue to celebrate youth leadership and excellence.