Leadership Conference students surround the organizers and speakers on the first day. Photo provided by Gavilan College.
Leadership Conference students surround the organizers and speakers on the first day. Photo provided by Gavilan College.

This article was contributed by Gavilan College.

Students from area high schools and Gavilan College convened at the first Youth Leadership conference to learn leadership and organizational skills from local community activists.

Gavilan Superintendent/President Kathleen Rose opened the conference wondering what the students might be thinking: What will the conference be about? Will the food be good? Will it be boring? Will I learn what kind of leader I am?

“When I started my leadership journey 40 years ago, I didn’t wake up and decide to be a college president,” Rose said. “My leadership journey began with simply living my life every day. Just like you are doing.”

The leadership conference convened less than a week after the shooting at the Gilroy Garlic Festival, and Rose mentioned the tragedy in her remarks.

“Here’s a little about what I know about leadership,” she said. “It grows with you and it deepens with experience.” She talked about being together and talking, expressing feelings as steps in recovery.

“And also leadership and education,” she said. “You are here today as a part of that process.” She outlined the five ingredients of leadership as guiding vision, passion, integrity, curiosity and daring.

Rose explained how the leadership conference came to pass and introduced Hollister-based attorney Elvira Zaragoza Robinson, the mastermind behind it.

“She is both intense and also the most loving person,” Rose said. “And she served on the Gavilan College Board of Trustees for more than 20 years.”

Robinson thanked Rose and the college for agreeing to sponsor the conference. Turning toward the students, she said, “For each and every one of you sitting in the room, we want to touch you, and we want you to benefit from our experience.”

Robinson attended San Jose State University, earned her law degree from Santa Clara University School of Law, was admitted to the bar in 1976, and was the first Latina attorney hired by Santa Clara County. She handled thousands of cases, taught at several law schools and is known statewide for her work in public law and with La Raza.

“It was my Spanish teacher who encouraged me to become a lawyer,” said Robinson. “We are here to learn and to be touched by others.”

She introduced the workshop speakers for the day: Pastor G.E. Harris and José Yengue.

Harris, a coach, trainer and speaker, previously worked as a prison warden with 7,000 inmates and 1,500 employees. But he started life as an abandoned baby raised by his grandmother in the Central Valley. He never expected to graduate high school, let alone college. The best job he could expect was to be a janitor.

“I have faith in you,” Harris told the students. “You are like a picture I have seen a thousand times.” He emphasized the importance of influence and using it in a positive way.

Yengue, an actor who flew in from Los Angeles, is the founder of Arts for Tomorrow, which was established to harness the transformational power and healing of the arts. He was introduced to acting classes by his mother, not because he wanted to act, but as a tool to address being overweight and to help correct a stutter.

“As a kid I was out of control, angry,” he said. “Really angry. I felt everything passionately. First crush? Really in love. Heartbroken? Really heartbroken.”

He told the students he would teach them some of the tools famous actors use to bring their characters to life in front of the camera. “So you can bring your own characters, as leaders, to life.”


Gavilan College is one of 113 California Community Colleges, a part of the largest system of higher education in the world. At Gavilan College you can prepare to transfer to a university, get training...