Queen Latifah, Denzel Washington, Timbaland and Misty Copeland are a few of the celebrities one USF student met while traveling across the country as the Boys & Girls Clubs of America’s Youth of the Year.
This year, the national Youth of the Year was awarded to Maryah Sullivan, a USF freshman studying to become a neurosurgeon.
Earlier this year, Sullivan competed against Florida Boys & Girls Clubs of America members across the state before going on to compete and win in the national competition.
The national winner is selected based on leadership skills, overcoming obstacles and family values. Sullivan was awarded a $50,000 scholarship for her title.
“I began going to the Boys & Girls Club when I was 6 years old; my elementary school was only a few feet away from the Boys & Girls Club,” Sullivan said. “I saw all my friends going after school and so I asked my mom if my brother and I could also go to the Boys & Girls Club.”
In elementary school, Sullivan began lending a hand in the local community volunteering at nursing homes and at the Ronald McDonald House in Orlando, which houses families of pediatric patients.
In high school, Sullivan became the president of the National Honor Society and led a volunteer group every Saturday at the Ronald McDonald House.
“It’s very important to me to volunteer in my own community,” Sullivan said. “I believe that it’s up to the people within this community to change their own community.
“I don’t think we should leave it up to government officials, the mayor or city council. I think that the people in the community know what the community itself needs and it’s important for us all to give back to it.”
While being an active volunteer, Sullivan was also a dedicated student. She graduated high school with a 4.4 GPA and as the first person in her family to go to college.
She said she manages to juggle volunteer work and schoolwork because, in her experience, it is easy to do work you love doing.
“It makes me feel like I broke a chain, but also started a new path,” Sullivan said. “I know that my brother and my little sister are up to higher standards now and I know they’re going to follow in my footsteps. It’s the beginning of a new journey for my family.”
After being named Youth of the Year, Sullivan’s life has been an adventure, though she said she tries not to let it go to her head.
Traveling to New York, Sullivan appeared on TODAY’s “Kathie Lee & Hoda” show, in ABC’s “Disney Parks Frozen Christmas Celebration” at Magic Kingdom and has been featured on “The Queen Latifah Show.”
“I’ve always said that the Boys & Girls Club has given me hope for as long as I can remember,” Sullivan said. “I’m able to go around and travel the country and just give that same hope to other kids. I think it’s very important to understand that you are not where you come from, that your obstacles don’t necessarily define you.”
While representing the Boys & Girls Clubs, Sullivan also attends USF studying to become a neurosurgeon. She said she knew by junior year of high school that neurosurgery and studying cancer were what she wanted to do after members of her family passed away from the disease.
Sullivan said she finds motivation for her full workload from her mother.
“I use her struggles and her obstacles as stepping stones for myself,” Sullivan said. “I learn from all of her experiences that she’s had as a teenager and that she’s still having now.”