By Brandon Wu,

As I stepped onto the HOBY bus, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I had never met over 95% of the people there with me, so I was as excited as I was nervous. The latter fell away quickly as I heard someone begin to play something on a stereo; it was the familiar Bohemian Rhapsody tune. Two people singing quickly turned into twenty, and before I knew it the entire bus was screaming the song at the top of our lungs. My HOBY experience started before the seminar even began!

The day after we arrived we were put into small groups of about 10 people each, and immediately I could tell there were a couple people who weren’t as thrilled as I was to be here. But just an hour after our icebreakers, it was clear that there was a special kind of environment at HOBY Washington that made even the shyest students want to join in on the enthusiasm!

Simple name games quickly turned into more serious topics. Without the first day of getting to know everyone’s personality so well, most of us probably wouldn’t be inclined to share such personal details about ourselves. The welcoming environment helped us to feel comfortable revealing parts of our identity about ourselves that we would never reveal to strangers. After all, they weren’t strangers anymore. In just a few days, the people in my group became some of my closest friends.

As much as I’ll always cherish my friends, the most memorable experience I had was from our guest speaker Jamie Utt, whose passion for equity and justice in society inspired me more than anything. It was the first time in my life that I’ve felt so moved by a speaker that I could gather the courage to find him after the speech to personally tell him how impactful his message was to me.

Every part of this seminar in my sophomore year made me want to take action. I started to volunteer as a counselor for day camps at middle schools. I helped kickstart a podcast at as a teen resource for daily struggles ranging from personal identity and political affiliation to body image and parental control. I decided to find a way to make even more of an impact of the community by taking an internship at the University of Washington Medical Center assisting lab residents with clinical data analysis on hepatitis C treatment along with laboratory experiments on how a protein called IL-10 could increase cancer cell proliferation. HOBY gave me that courage and desire to get out into the community and make a change, which is why it was a must for me to return the following year.

As a part of Team Alumni at the seminar in the following year, I led cheers and got the unique experience of watching the next group of ambassadors grow over just four days. They were shy at first, just like I was. But inevitably by the end, they were screaming along to our cheers, bonding as a group, and learning valuable leadership skills just as we had a year before.