A Hopkins County teen was recognized at the national FBI Headquarters for her “leadership among leaders” at the FBI’s annual Youth Leadership Program this summer.
Lillie Knight bested 59 other participants from all across the world to receive the only individualized honor, the John A. Wagner, Jr. Youth Leadership Program Scholarship Award, after one intensive week of mental and physical training in Quantico, Virginia.
Knight was also the only participant from Kentucky after having undergone a highly selective statewide application process.
According to Knight, she stumbled on the news about the program from a family friend’s suggestion only a month prior to the application deadline. Knight said she took a leap of faith in applying, and she was eventually interviewed in Lexington among five other candidates from Kentucky. The next thing she knew, she was on a flight to Virginia.
Unbeknownst to her, the FBI youth program organizers were watching the participants from the very first day, which is when Knight said that she had unintentionally set herself apart.
“I was the only person who
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would walk up and introduce myself,” she said. “And that’s what it takes to be a leader. You can’t be scared. You have to have courage.”
The program was composed of consistent mental and physical challenges, Knight said, where participants would attend classes on leadership and undergo daily physical training.
“We woke up everyday at 4:45 a.m. for (physical training),” Knight said. “That was the hardest part for me. I wasn’t used to getting up so early.”
Knight said the classes were focused on the many different facets of leadership, such as time management and motivations.
Her favorite class was the one that delved into the history of “bad leadership” such as Hitler’s reign in Nazi Germany in the early 20th century.
While the program focused on leadership, teamwork was also a large component, she said.
Throughout the week, they were often split into teams where they would complete physical and mental challenges such as relay races and puzzles.
“You weren’t finished until the last person in your team was finished,” Knight said, “You’re only as strong as your weakest link — that was our motto.”
In those team-building exercises, she said she found lifelong friends.
While the initial days were slow in social activity, Knight said she befriended people from across the world and was able to learn more about culturally different backgrounds. Those people, some of whom had parents in high-ranking positions in NASA and the United Nations, also had fun learning more about Kentucky.
“It took some time to form these bonds, but I consider these people my friends and family now,” she said.
Knight said she was always interested in a career in law and protection agencies, but her experience in this program made that blossoming interest crystallize into steel-like ambition.
She plans to pursue a career as an agent in the FBI once she graduates college. While her specific plan includes spending a required three years training in Puerto Rico, her aspirations reach internationally.
“After that, I can work anywhere I want — even overseas with the president,” Knight said.
Knight also advised those interested in participating in this program or anything else that is of interest, all that is required is to take that first leap of faith.
She stressed a particular lesson that she learned from a high-ranking agent in the FBI, who gave a speech about how he didn’t even graduate from college to be where he was today.
There’s no education requisite nor circumstantial background required to be a leader.
According to Knight, all you have to do is take that first step.