AMES, Iowa -- On the first day of the 2005 Iowa 4-H Youth Conference students gathered in Stephens Auditorium on the Iowa State University (ISU) campus to kick-off the conference and listen to a speaker.
However, this 23-year-old speaker was far from typical, as was his life. Josh Shipp captivated students with his unique sense of humor and honesty.
His message was simple. "Don't be average," Shipp repeated throughout the hour.
Although he had a difficult childhood and his attitude wasn't always positive, Shipp triumphed over adversity to become a successful adult.
As an infant, Shipp was abandoned at the hospital by his 17-year-old parents. He then went to live with his grandparents (who had adopted his mother).
Throughout his childhood Shipp dreamed of meeting his mother. At 5, his mother called him and Shipp spoke to her for the first time. His mother asked him to meet her and didn't show up. To this day, Shipp has never met his mother or anyone related to him.
As an 8-year-old, Shipp was placed in a foster home. His life hit a low point when he was molested by a man living in the foster home. Shipp began binge eating and became suicidal after this experience. He continued to move from foster home to foster home.
However, Shipp's life and attitude changed when a foster home mother told him, "You are not a problem, you are an opportunity."
As a teenager he became involved in a student leadership program after being encouraged by a teacher. Although, he joined the program to get out of school early, get free cookies and meet girls, he found his calling in motivational speaking.
"If you choose to live an average life you're not living," Shipp said. "You're simply existing."
Although Shipp spoke candidly to youth about the rough times in his life, the tone of his speech was upbeat and hopeful. He sprinkled his presentation with humorous anecdotes. For example, as a college student Shipp had little experience cooking. He put leftover lasagna covered in aluminum foil in the microwave and caused it to explode.
Shipp ended his presentation with an inspirational message. "It takes an above average attitude to be an above average leader."
He has been giving motivational speeches for seven years and spoken to more than one million youth. Shipp has hosted a reality television show and appeared on Comedy Central. He dreams of having a family and being a good father in the future.
The Iowa 4-H Youth Conference is held annually on the ISU campus under the auspices of ISU Extension 4-H Youth Development and the Iowa 4-H Foundation.
Carol Ouverson, Continuing Education and Communication Services, (515) 294-9640, firstname.lastname@example.org