Senior exemplifies leadership, service, volunteerism
Billy Michal of Zimmerman, La., was just six years old at the height of World War II, but that didn’t stop him from contributing to the war effort. Michal donated his toy wagon, the family tricycle, and other personal possessions to a local scrap yard for the purpose of creating war materials.
Michal’s efforts have been used as part of the National WWII Museum’s education initiatives since 2002, as they illustrate the importance of service in one’s community. In 2017, the American Spirit Awards adopted Michal’s namesake for an annual award honoring volunteerism and leadership in each state.
This year, one DeKalb County School District (DCSD) student was selected as Georgia’s winner.
DeKalb Early College Academy (DECA) senior Sydnie Cobb was recently named the recipient of the 2018 Billy Michal Student Leadership Award for the state of Georgia. As Georgia’s winner, Cobb will join 49 other students from across the United States in New Orleans, La., on June 7 and 8 for a gala event, a tour of the National WWII Museum and the French Quarter, leadership activities, and an awards luncheon.
According to Cobb, she did not even know she was nominated by her DECA teacher, Jason Butler, until she had already won.
“This was a complete surprise for me,” Cobb said. “I’m glad to know I have cheerleaders here at DECA. I’m glad to know my work in community service is being recognized. It’s a good feeling.”
The DECA senior is already a WWII history buff. Last year, Cobb and Butler studied the subject and traveled to Normandy, France as part of the Sacrifice for Freedom® Albert H. Small Student & Teacher Institute program.
Cobb said she looks forward to traveling to New Orleans to learn even more about World War II and meeting fellow award-winners from across the country.
“I’m honored to represent the state of Georgia as a Billy Michal recipient,” Cobb said. “I’m going to make sure I make my state proud.”
Cobb attributes her nomination and recognition to her work in Girl Scouts, which she has been a part of since the age of five. Cobb most recently earned her Gold Award—the highest attainable honor in Girl Scouts—for raising $6,155 for the purpose of aiding more than 750 young women in Malawi, a country in eastern Africa. Turner Broadcasting System, Inc., awarded Cobb an additional $1,500 to continue her efforts.
Cobb says she is also involved in continuous community service projects at DECA. Most recently, she teamed with other students to donate more than 1,000 books to Dunaire Elementary.
In just her high school career, Cobb estimates she has completed more than 600 hours of community service.
“I’ve grown up with the mindset that it’s important to give back to the community,” Cobb said. “Since I was five years old, I’ve been constantly engaged in community service. It has been a part of my life for so long that, at this point, it kind of feels like second nature.”
Cobb is active in DECA’s student government as class president, Reading Bowl team, National Honor Society, and also serves as president of DECA’s Youth Leadership Center, which focuses on community service.
As a full-time dual enrollment student, Cobb is also a member of Georgia State University’s History & Politics Club and serves as a copy editor for the campus newspaper, The Signal.
At DECA, students are required to enroll in college classes their junior and senior year. When Cobb graduates in May, she will not only have a high school diploma, but an associate’s degree in Political Science courtesy of Georgia State.
Cobb’s go-to quote in times of struggle comes from Theodore Roosevelt: “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” She says it’s never too early to try to make the world a better place and that there are always resources available to those willing to find them.
While achievement is important to Cobb, she maintains that finding a balance in her social and academic life is also a high priority.
Butler said Cobb is definitely a student that stands out, even among DECA’s high achieving student body.
“The award recognizes students who are taking a proactive role in some community and trying to make it better,” Butler said. “Through her work at DECA and in the Girl Scouts, Sydnie checks every box. I consider myself fortunate to be involved in her life. This is year 14 as an educator, and this is the first time I’ve encountered a student like her—not just her grades, but her leadership skills, ability to make an impact in the world. She can and will do something great in the world. She sees no obstacles.”
After DECA, she plans to maintain her community service and attend college, where she plans to study Political Science. Her first choice is Yale, but she has applied—and been accepted into—several schools.
Cobb said her next community service project will be even bigger than aiding young women in Malawi.
“A leader is comfortable being uncomfortable,” Cobb said. “A leader is someone who challenges themselves to take on a new risk, or take opportunities with an open mind. Positions may seem daunting at first, but you have to encourage yourself to step outside that comfort zone and allow yourself to be a leader.”