11th Annual Student Engagement Leadership Conference: Chocolate World, Water Park, Mini Golf and “Chills”

By, Lauren Raziano, Social Media Editor

The 11th Annual Student Engagement Leadership Conference exceeded my wildest dream about chocolate experiences with strangers who became my friends.

I found out about the Student Leadership conference during a Student Government meeting when they accidentally announced that the location for the leadership weekend would be Hershey, Pennsylvania. Although I don’t like rollercoasters, I knew going to chocolate world and a free hotel bed and shower was something I had to apply for.

I had two other friends apply and get in for the weekend, but one cancelled before because of a family event and the other one couldn’t find anyone to take her shifts at work that weekend. So, I committed to embarking on the student leadership weekend alone.

We received an email from Sharon Otega, the Assistant Director of Student Engagement, sent an email Friday morning with the details to meet at the Manhattan College gates at 9am Sunday morning.

Personally, the Saturday morning 9am bus ride to Hershey was a bit of a struggle for me. Even though I was wearing my favorite Pitbull Sweatshirt “I FEEL GOOD: TOUR 2021”, I was thinking to myself “Pitbull, I don’t feel so good.” But I had a change in mentally when Mrs. Sharon Oteaga mentioned the free apple juice, coffee, croissant, and donut options available to all of us on the bus.

I got up and quickly grabbed a glazed donut and my new friend sitting across from me offered to grab me an apple juice from the front of the bus.

We finally got to Hershey Chocolate World around 1pm and had an hour to find lunch. Student Engagement gave us a meal ticket which allowed us to eat for free at the Hershey Station. I chose the chilli bowl option with a side of Hershey’s attempt at Doritos which tasted like salsa, a wonderfully delicious chocolate chip cookie, and my favorite drink, Gold Leaf raspberry iced tea.

We then broke up into groups and we went on the chocolate tour with singing cows and candy bars that told us how Hershey chocolate is made. Then, I bought my large Hershey kisses and twizzlers for my friends and family and we headed to the hotel.

Emma and I shared a room in the lodge, we each got our own bed and we headed to the Hershey Lodge Water Park.

The Hershey Lodge has “Sweetest Indoor Pool Complex” with the attractions of the “Twizzlers Twists,” racing water slides and the “Reese’s Water Walk.”There was a 14-and-older hot tub, which was taken over by me and the other college students on the trip because no children were technically allowed in that space. While the guys in the group played water basketball I attempted to climb up onto the floating dolphin (imagine a water mechanical bull) but alas I failed and dived deep into the water.

As it approached 6pm, Emma and I went back to the room, took showers, and put on our business casual dresses. We walked as a group to the Italian Buffet Dinner which was chicken parm, pasta, salads, and an array of chocolate desserts. Plus bread with chocolate butter, I would give it a 9/10 recommendation.

After our dinner was over Zach Olivier gave a motivational speech where he told us about his journey of baseball, self-discovery, and how to produce “chills”. We all went up to the microphone and told everyone who we are.


Everytime after someone had the confidence to say who they were, Zach said “ I just got CHILLS.”

Our night event ended around 9:30pm and Emma and I decided to go back to our room and watch a movie while we gossiped about life on campus. Even though Emma was a year ahead of me, she and I got along so well and I knew that I had found a new friend.

We woke up and packed for the 9am breakfast buffet, which was just as delicious with chocolate pastries. Zach Olivier, Francesco Casale, and Gabriella Castillo gave a final presentation in the morning about building confidence and how to capture an audience. They focused on time management, knowing and using your strengths, and how to achieve your goals. We all talked about something that we learned that weekend.

One of the most important things I learned was that to be a leader, you can be the one lone nut and start a revolution. The next important step is to embrace the other followers that come as equals. “The first follower transforms a lone nut into a leader. If the leader is the flint, the first follower is the spark that makes the fire.”

After our leadership recap was over, we all sprinted immediately to the mini golf which was located on the hotel campus. We had an hour of put- ting and bonding over my love of Pitbull, Mr. 305. My very first putt was a hole in one but it wasn’t about competition and winning, it was about making new friendships. No, I lied it was about winning. I won mini golf.

The bus ride back took longer than expected due to Sunday night traffic but I didn’t mind because the lunch time pit stop was to WAWA. I got my favorite WAWA ice teas ( Raspberry and green tea) and for fun the thanksgiving sandwich, and Voodoo chips.

As we approached the school I was very thankful that I got lucky and decided to apply for this trip and decided to go alone. Weeks later, the guys I went on the trip with still say hi to me while we pass each other on campus and it makes me smile.

I hope more students are encouraged to go on this annual trip because it might just be where you meet a new best friend.