At River Hill High School last year, Michelle Waters was a leader in the school's Student Government Association and a member of the cheerleading squad.
In her community, she has volunteered for neighborhood clean-ups, worked in soup kitchens, tutored younger students and worked as a swimming instructor and lifeguard for the Columbia Association.
Now, the 16-year-old junior wants to be a leader outside of her school and community. She took a big step toward that goal last month when she attended an 11-day conference in Washington.
"I thought it was a great experience and a great idea," said Waters, one afternoon during the annual National Young Leaders Conference, sponsored by the Congressional Youth Leadership Council, a nonprofit educational organization supervised by a committee of congressmen and women. "I love to go for any experience I can. I'm always going to this conference and that conference."
From June 18 through 28, Michelle joined 349 other students from around the country who the council said demonstrated strong leadership potential.
Each day, Michelle rose about 6:30 a.m. Sometimes, she managed breakfast before the buses departed for the day's events. Other times, the group was transported to breakfast as early as 7:25 a.m. The days didn't end until 11 p.m.
The students sat through lectures on current political and ethical topics, selected workshops in which to participate and toured the Baltimore-Washington area.
They visited sites in Washington such as the Lincoln, Jefferson and Vietnam Veterans memorials. They met with senators and state representatives on Capitol Hill and participated in a discussion with journalists at the National Press Club.
The students also staged a mock congress, at which Michelle was voted vice president by the other "congresspeople."
"We got to sit where they actually debate and write the bills," Michelle said. "That was lots of fun."
Michelle's mother, Maria, said her youngest daughter has grown into a leader, noting that Michelle has participated in other leadership conferences -- including one at Harvard University.
"She was always shy and on the quiet side," Waters said.
But her parents placed her in a local children's theater company, and Michelle blossomed after being given the lead role of P.T. Barnum in a play. Being on stage helped Michelle learn to speak in front of others.
"She was so nervous when she received that part," Waters said. "But she just worked so hard and was so proud of herself. I could really see her change, once she knew she had the confidence and the ability to do that."
In the mock congress, Michelle and others were given topics to research and a position to debate on those topics.
When discussing medical marijuana use, hate crimes and education issues, Michelle had to train herself to think like a conservative Republican -- which was a little bit of a stretch, despite her acting skills.
"I kind of fall in the footsteps of my [older] sister, and that's an independent," Michelle said. "Because I agree with some things with the Democrats and some things with the Republicans and I prefer to keep my mind open."
Though she's interested in politics, Michelle said she really wants to be a leader in the business world. Her goal is one day to open a club for teen-agers, with dancing, a game room, an eating place, a homework room and a counseling/support area in the basement.
Not a nightclub and not your traditional Boys and Girls club, she said.
"It's gonna be more of like a hipper place for kids to hang out and meet people," Michelle said.
She's adamant about young people meeting other young people, she said, because going to leadership conferences has brought her out of her shell and helped her make friends with teen-agers all over the map.
"Not many people can say they've met someone from every state in the United States," Michelle said. "With all these different experiences, I tolerate people more easily. I'm more open to new ideas and I've heard a lot of ideas. It all just helps me get closer to my dream. I'm definitely ready to go out there and get started when I'm done with college."