Following a riveting York County student council conference in 2017, Westmont Hilltop student Max Wilkinson saw an opportunity in the making.
“We were on a four-hour ride back home and we basically started hashing out what we wanted to do to bring the event to our community,” Wilkinson said.
Through years of hard work by dozens of students, that goal will reach its fruition Thursday, as more than 1,000 student leaders and their advisers will arrive in Johnstown for a three-day, statewide Pennsylvania Association of Student Councils conference.
Under a “Take Your Shot with Leadership” theme inspired by Johnstown’s rich hockey tradition, Westmont Hilltop will host the conference through Saturday.
The event will feature several speakers, including comedian and motivational speaker Judson Laipply, whose 2006 YouTube video “Evolution of Dance” logged more than 300 million views and inspired a series of live late-night skits by Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake.
It will also offer a list of leadership-focused workshops developed by student leaders for students, the event’s schedule shows.
“I thought this was a great opportunity to help others. (Students) will leave being different than when they came,” he said.
It’s also a unique opportunity to welcome tomorrow’s leaders to Westmont and the Johnstown community that student council members call home, Wilkinson said.
Student Council Adviser Jonathan Rutledge said more than 40 Westmont Hilltop students council members have dedicated time to preparing for the event – many of them several years, with Wilkinson, fellow senior Cassidy Weir and Junior Lakyn Davis leading the charge.
“They deserve the credit because they did a ton of work,” Rutledge said.
He said the group worked “constantly” to prepare for the event – originally going through a thorough series of pitches to win over the conference’s board.
In recent weeks, they’ve worked to prepare for the event’s arrival, creating and setting up decor, crafting speeches and making other preparations for a formal banquet at the Pasquerilla Conference Center, Rutledge added.
The event formally begins at 4:15 p.m. Thursday.
Conference attendees will be bused to a Johnstown Tomahawks game that evening and begin taking student-led workshops Friday in what serves as a full day of events, the conference’s schedule shows.
Ten regional caucuses will meet to vote on statewide student council business matters.
Laipply, a onetime Ohio Association of Students Councils president before becoming a YouTube sensation, “Climber Guy” John Beede and Spanish teacher-turned Mixed Martial Arts fighter Charlie “The Spaniard” Brenneman will all address students this week.
Brenneman also tours the country as a motivational speaker.
Westmont Hilltop Student Council member Jacob Allen chaired the conference’s entertainment department.
He said he’s “ecstatic” to see the weekend arrive after years of work.
“We’ve managed to pull of something that schools way larger than us normally do – graduating classes with 1,000 students,” Allen said.
“To see it all come together after all this time, it’s definitely worth it.”