Breanna Keikilani Upshaw

Bringing basic leadership skills to the political arena

Breanna Upshaw knew she had leadership potential when she tutored a class of twenty-five first- and second-graders in San Diego who were considered to have learning handicaps. Though the concepts she needed to teach were simple, she saw how sincerely the children looked to “Miss Upshaw” for understanding. “Having someone depend on you for something important makes you try your hardest not to let them down,” she says. Even though frustrating at times, “I had to be there whenever they needed me.” Then when you understand how to reach them and “see the light bulbs switch on, the results are the most rewarding and important part of the job.”

Breanna began thinking about the importance of the right leadership, how important it is to avoid the temptation to do everything and instead enable others to set goals and accomplish tasks. Her students trusted her, and she realized how precious that trust was and how she could apply her own best qualities of openness, integrity, and dedication to her role as a leader. She understood how valuable it had been to analyze not only the students’ needs, but also exactly how to best reach them. This empathy had enhanced her communication skills, another quality vital to effective leadership. She also saw that she couldn’t simply operate on a do-as-I say basis; she had to show by setting a good example.

As she was evaluating her personal leadership skills, she was also noticing the lack of the same basic skills in the legislature in Washington. Fighting in an “unjust war” is terrible in itself, Breanna believes, but when that war also comes close to bankrupting the country, it’s even more disastrous. She finds it unacceptable that lawmakers refused to negotiate and take actions that were in the truest interests of the country.

Still in college at San Diego State University, Breanna was especially interested in her studies of international security, which relies on international relations. “There are those who want to live life from day to day, just trying to survive,” Breanna says, and there are those who want to make the world a better place whether it’s through science, math, or literature. But for Breanna, the most effective way to create change is through politics, which she is passionate about. She feels that “different cultures around the world coming together in unity for the common purpose of acquiring new skills in order to make a more peaceful future” is vitally important, and she wants to be a part of it. She wants to work in the political arena and “needs to acquire the skills to help make the world a better place.”

Breanna especially enjoyed interacting with and being inspired by the wonderful international leaders of the future she met through HSI.