General Sessions at GTI 2015: Six Lessons Learned

TI! YOU KNOW! Is it still ringing in your ears? It’s hard to believe that Georgia Teen Institute 2015 is over and we have to wait another whole year to feel the magic, excitement and energy again. Reflecting back on the last two weeks, it’s apparent that a lot of great memories were made. Among some of the best things we’ll never forget are the times when we all came together for our large group General Sessions. From getting excited over pencils to declaring that we will live our lives without the influence of drugs to doing energizers with people from all across the state, this is truly a time to embrace the GTI spirit. We already know that a lot goes in to making GTI a success, but often more important is what we get out. Check out six things we took away from General Sessions during GTI 2015:

1. “Stop trying so hard to fit in. If you stand out, there’s a really good reason for that.”

Durand Farley mixed wisdom with wit and popular music to liven up the crowd on the first evening of the program. Full of talent, he jumped back and forth betweenDurand singing with his band to sharing points of wisdom and using personal stories as inspiration. In response to the well-known ditty “This Little Light of Mine,” Durand stated, “Our light is not little. We are made of the same substance from which stars are made. We are luminous… Turn on your light.” He described our light as a culmination of assets, abilities, capabilities, talents, gifts and passions. Durand encouraged participants to be active and intentional about shining their lights, and it was the perfect way to kick off GTI each week.

2. “Just because it’s common doesn’t mean it’s right.”

Yvonne Harvey-Williams delivered a powerful keynote speech following Durand’s performance that was inspiring, empowering and had participants hanging on to every word. Using her own life experiences and hardships as proof that you can overcome anything, YvonneYvonne encouraged each person in the room to reach their fullest potential no matter their history or current situation. In her own words, she stated, “Don’t let your situation or circumstances dictate your destiny.” She spoke on what it means to take responsibility for ourselves, as well as how to be in control of how we define who we are: by identifying our purpose and greatness locked inside. Full of wisdom and fire, Yvonne set the stage for both personal reflection and a desire to make good choices to enhance our future.

3. There are a lot of good reasons to choose a drug-free lifestyle.

Red General SessionSince GTI is GUIDE’s largest substance abuse prevention program, we could not think of a better way to kick off Red Ribbon Week 2015 than with our Youth Action Teams from all across the state. We announced our Paint Georgia Red campaign and not only told participants how to join us, but also shared some of the reasons our staff choose to be drug free. Here are a few reasons they gave:

  • Our young people deserve to live their best life and accomplish all of their dreams.
  • I love to be different. When you stand out, it’s easier to stand up for what you believe, which makes it easier to make a CHANGE.
  • I want to continue to be a positive factor in my community and the lives of others.
  • My goals and aspirations are too high for alcohol and drugs in my life.
  • I want to be the best version of ME.

With special guest Chris Wood from DBHDD, an energized crowd and lots and lots of red, we could not have had a better time declaring our reasons for leading a drug-free lifestyle.

4. Hard work pays off.

Several superlatives are distributed during the Golden Pencil Awards each year, but two awards given are true honors. This year, Elliott Walker received the Outstanding Volunteer Award “In recognition of [his] countless volunteer hours over many years, Elliottdedication to our programs and events, and for [his] willingness to do any and all things to make GTI a better place.” Having committed himself to GTI for a decade, we could not think of a better person to receive this honor. Congratulations, Elliott! In addition, a Youth Action Team from each week of the program received the Team of the Year Award for going above and beyond with monthly reports and working hard to make an impact in their communities. Congratulations to SOAR and High Achievers!

5. Drug-free fun isn’t hard to find when you surround yourself with good people.

Guys DanceWe have a lot of fun at GTI, and it is made possible by the incredible folks who dedicate their time and talents to be a part of it. From generating a beat with cups to lip sync battles to surprise dancing, we are always having a good time… all in the name of prevention. Don’t believe us? Just watch:

6. Branching Out takes bravery and courage.

TI PerformersWe were thrilled to close out GTI each week by showcasing the talents of several youth and adult participants with TI Performers in our Closing Session. These participants shared their gifts of singing, dancing, spoken word and playing instruments to over 150 people, showing the very meaning of this year’s theme. We love the many talents that are brought to GTI each year and are especially thankful for those who choose to Branch Out and share them with us.


If it’s not clear already, our TI love bubbles over during General Sessions. Though this time may only seem like door prizes, energizers and keynotes, if you look a little deeper, it is actually a celebration of what GTI is all about: diversity, being yourself and having drug-free fun.

Stay tuned in the upcoming weeks for more GTI 2015 blog posts recapping Team Meetings, workshop presenters and more! Also, check out our Facebook page on June 29th when we reveal our photos from both weeks of the program.

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