Jayden De Armas

Jayden is a guest contributor for Ashoka U's Student Changemaker Stories campaign. He is a current undergraduate student at University of San Diego and is the coordinator of the Changemaker Student Committee.

We are Rarely Born as Changemakers

This blog is part of Ashoka U’s Student Changemaker Stories: a campaign bringing together diverse student changemaker perspectives to shift the narrative around what it means to be a changemaker and who can be one – on campus and beyond. Each story concludes with a note of gratitude and call-to-action from the author.

The yellow sheet in my hand was still warm from the printer. The bold words were so foreign to me, it was as if they were written in a different language:

“SUMMONS: Jayden De Armas to the principal’s office.” All I could think was, “Oh boy, I really did it this time…”

Upon entering the office, my principal handed over a printed invitation written to me to attend a camp known as RYLA. By the look on my principal’s face, I could tell he was just as confused as me, a self-declared slacker. I went home, told my parents, and did what any high schooler does when they don’t know what something is – Googled it.

Much to my surprise, I couldn’t find much information about the camp online. All I could find was an explanation of the acronym RYLA (Rotary Youth Leadership Awakening) and my instructions to attend the camp. I would get on an unmarked charter bus in a Walmart parking lot on a Friday morning at 8 am.

My Changemaking Spark: RYLA Camp

Today I write this reflection as a student at the University of San Diego (USD) and there is no doubt that my changemaking journey was sparked that day as a high schooler. Had I not followed the unexpected invitation to RYLA Camp, I would not be studying changemaking at USD or have the drive to leave the world better than I found it.

Back to my 16-year-old self, heading to RYLA on that destined day…

Making my way towards the bus that morning, I had no idea this would be my life’s greatest turning point. I remember a distinct promise I made to myself when I boarded: To make the very best of this mysterious adventure even though I had no known reason to be there.

Our RYLA Family

The 50 other students on the bus that morning were all there because they had done something amazing. The girl in front of me was in charge of marketing for my city’s mayor, and behind me sat a boy working on creating a videography program to help raise awareness for refugees. In the midst of all these changemakers, sat me – the exact opposite of what I would describe as a changemaker.

Out of the 200 people attending RYLA, I was the only one who didn’t apply, never wrote an essay, never had an interview, and never even heard of the camp until the day I was invited.

Nurturing the Spark into a Flame

I connect back to RYLA often, as it was the beginning spark of my journey as a changemaker. While at the RYLA Camp I listened to many insightful speakers who all stressed the same central point: Change does not exist when no one is willing to make it, so you must be the one willing.

A light switch turned on for me in that moment. Since then, I have dedicated as much time and effort as possible into developing myself as a changemaker.

What followed was a pathway of deeper engagement in my community and involvement in building teams of other changemakers: I started up clubs with my high school to promote inclusivity; I worked with my city’s youth council to host events to help bring the community together; I even had the chance to serve as the Chairman of the United Nations Youth Advisory Board to bring the sustainability initiatives of the UN to the youth of San Diego.

Our first USD Changemaker Student Committee meeting.

The changemaking pathway that RYLA set me on is the reason I currently attend USD and am pursuing a minor in changemaking and leadership.

I was drawn to USD because of its prestigious title and influence as a Changemaker Campus. I knew it would be the perfect place for me to continue my education with changemaking in action at the forefront.

Convening Other Student Changemakers 

My changemaker pathway continues to evolve with support from fellow changemakers at USD. I work as the coordinator of the Changemaker Student Committee where I help to educate students on the most efficient and sustainable ways to apply changemaking skills.

I am also working with a team of other student changemakers to develop a “design thinking crash course” where we will facilitate courses around campus to share aspects of social innovation.

USD’s Changemaker Student Committee meeting with community representatives on homelessness.

By working to spread the knowledge of changemaking to students around USD, I am working towards my goal to inspire students to bring their changemaking ideas to life through the Changemaking Minor. I see this as a key tool for any student to embed changemaking in what they study.

Looking forward, I know I’m on a pathway to reach my goals, make a sustainable difference, and experience new insights and growth with the support of USD. Every student deserves that. Every student needs to feel willing to create change and be comfortable with it.

I encourage you to remember that not everyone is born a changemaker, but anyone can become one.


Closing Words from Jayden

Interested in reading more student changemaker stories? Jump back to our full list of stories and contributors!