The Boys & Girls Clubs of Cleveland’s Youth of the Year Meeri Shin has risen through the competition since the initial local event to participate at nationals in Washington, D.C.
“You can’t really take it as a competition,” Shin said. “You just have to have fun with it. If you end up winning at the end of the day, that is really cool. If you don’t, then it is still cool because you had fun doing it.”
Shin knows what she is talking about. The Walker Valley High School graduate and current University of California, Berkeley student has been competing since the eighth grade. Still, flying to D.C. for nationals is a lot for even the young stalwart competitor.
She described the next step as “surreal” in an interview prior to the competition.
Thursday found Shin on a plane East Coast bound. She joined five other regional winners Friday in the nation’s Capitol. Every candidate will have the opportunity to meet President Barack Obama and celebrity alumni including Denzel Washington, Misty Copeland and Shaun White.
All six regional winners were given Saturday and Sunday to socialize with each other and participate in various activities. These included meeting their respective senators and representatives, a dinner with celebrity club alumni and a presentation to an esteemed judging panel.
Monday began the official competition. Candidates will recognize the competition’s set-up with only minor changes from the preceeding levels.
According to Shin, the group interviews with judges are one-on-one and the time allotted for speeches has been reduced to three minutes.
Shin says the heart of her speech has remained the same at each level of the competition.
“No matter what my speech has been, the heart, the three paragraphs in the middle, has always been the same,” Shin explained. “My own personal story, which takes up only two minutes, is all that is in there. This is really the only thing people want to hear, which is nice.”
Shin admitted to changing the introduction and conclusion of her speech at the state and regional levels.
She explained it was to keep from sounding fake and staying true to herself.
Shin added with a laugh, “It kind of stresses everyone at the club out a little bit, but I think at this stage they trust me to write these speeches.”
Each Youth of the Year candidate has been a part of the process on a smaller scale. Shin was a part of the competition at the local, state and regional level before being chosen to represent the Southeast in Tennessee.
“Everyone in Cleveland has been so helpful in every aspect,” Shin said. “All they want to do is help me win. All throughout the summer, it has been about preparing for this competition.”
George Johnson Teen Unit director Wyatt Bevis is serving as Shin’s adviser in Washington, D.C. Shin attributes a portion of her success to employees like Wyatt Bevis at the local Boys & Girls Clubs.
“They were my first foundation of leadership and community service. They are the ones who pushed me to really get involved in my high school,” Shin said. “If my school had a club, I was probably in it. Not only was I in it, I was probably an officer.”
By Shin’s count she was a member of more than 20 clubs in the course of her high school career. She has since continued her dedication to being involved at Berkeley.
Shin is studying pre-law and plans to major in cognitive science with a minor in human conflict studies. She has joined a sorority, submitted her application for the political review, played intramural soccer and tried out for the school’s mock trial club.
Shin said her focus is on having fun.
“It is such a fun time in my life. I’m across the country. I’m at a new college. I am meeting all these people and I get to have all of these amazing opportunities,” Shin said. “If I win, then that is obviously very memorable, but then at the same time, if I don’t win, then I still got to meet all of these great people and then get to fly back to the West Coast for college.”
Added Shin, “So it has been a pretty good year so far.”
The winner of the Boys & Girls Clubs of America Youth of the Year will be announced Wednesday.