ANTIGONISH: StFX University announced that it is hosting a virtual conference by the largest student-led leadership group in Canada.

The Nova Scotia Secondary School Students’ Association (NSSSA) is a non-profit, student-led leadership organization focusing on leadership development for high school students. This group of students is thinking outside the box, offering leadership skills building, during the pandemic, by holding their annual conference virtually called Refresh, StFX noted.

The university said Nova Scotia high school students have many great reasons to attend the Nova Scotia Secondary Schools’ Association (NSSSA) annual provincial conference, Refresh 2021, taking place May 22-23, virtually from the StFX campus.

Chief among them is that the student-led conference focuses on promoting leadership skills and community, in a warm, inclusive atmosphere, and it’s a lot of fun, say conference co-chairs Katie MacLennan and Ella Stacey.

“This leadership conference will feature four incredible keynote addresses, opportunities to make friends from all over the province, and fun activities such as a talent show, ‘how-to’ sessions and much more,” says MacLennan, a first year StFX engineering student from Bras d’Or.

The weekend will be filled with friendship and an energy that’s a defining factor of NSSSA, she says. “The energy is so unique and so hard to describe. It’s a comforting, welcoming atmosphere that really brings out the best in you.”

“Through the NSSSA, I was able to conquer my fears of public speaking and it helped with the social anxiety I face,” says Stacey, a second year Dalhousie University student, originally from California, but who’s lived in Halifax for the past decade.

“My first provincial conference, Exceeding Expectations 2016, I was given a very warm welcome and gained skills, which I still use in my everyday life. By the time our last conference, Vision 2020, rolled around I was able to be myself, speak my mind, and be surrounded by many kids doing the same. The NSSSA is such an inclusive community, and I am always able to turn to the friends I made through it.

“This conference will be unlike anything done on a provincial level before. The pandemic took a lot from us all. It’s my hope that Refresh can bring some normalcy to the lives of high school students across Nova Scotia!”

The conference is open to all Grade 9-12 students in Nova Scotia. Registration closes on May 1. To register go to StFX.ca and hit the “NSSSA Conference” story.

Refresh 2021, the organizers say, is a chance to take a moment to breathe and ‘refresh,’ to recognize the knowledge gained after many unexpected challenges and unforeseen changes in 2020. It’s also a chance to gain new strength and energy, to reinvigorate, and focus on the future.

MacLennan says to make the virtual conference special, organizers will be shipping “Conference in a Box” boxes to all delegates who register. The boxes will include information and manuals about the conference along with some extra fun stuff delegates would typically get at a provincial conference.

Highlights from Refresh 2021 will include four dynamic keynotes and seven skill-building and how-to sessions over the weekend.

MacLennan says a welcoming tone will be set right from the start with an opening keynote delivered by Playfair, known for high spirited and high energy activities. Over the next two days, delegates will be inspired by addresses from filmmakers and StFX alumni Meghan and Marie Wright; the Nova Scotia Youth Project, whose mission is to make Nova Scotia a safer, healthier, and happier place for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth; and Andy Thibodeau, a longtime NSSSA favorite, who closes the conference speaking about what has been learned through a year of COVID-19 and how to apply that knowledge.

While most students will attend the entire conference, MacLennan says delegates are able to attend sessions as their schedule allows. She says from her own personal perspective, NSSSA has greatly enhanced her leadership skills since she attended her first conference in Grade 10. At the time, she says she was quite shy, but has since grown to take on a number of leadership roles and has grown in her own self-confidence.

“It’s mainly the energy that comes along with NSSSA. It’s a very unique high energy that allows you to participate as much as you like. Delegates have the right to pass, to say no thank you to participating in an activity. It gives you the ability to sculpt your own conference experience.”

Gaining new friends, listening to inspiring keynotes and attending the sessions with people who are going through the same things as you are just some of the benefits, she says.

An added bonus to attending this leadership conference is that NSSSA is known across Canada and participation in it looks great on a resume, she says.

The upcoming virtual conference will be broadcasted from StFX. The conference boasts the largest gathering, even virtually, of student leaders in the province.

NSSSA students have been teaching leadership to their peers through motivation, inspiration and demonstration since 1992.