Sumter's Next Generation, presented by CCTC: Sumter High's Jeshua Espiritu talks being first international president for Junior Civitans, facing fears head on


Life comes with its fair share of challenges, no matter how big or small. The unknown is scary, but it's vital to learning oneself and growing into their purpose in life. Sumter High's Jeshua Espiritu knows a thing or two about that.

Jeshua isn't your average teenager. Sure, you can catch him on the tennis court, throwing a couple of mean serves or hanging out with a few friends minutes before a National Honor Society meeting. But you can also catch the 18-year-old giving speeches at international summits to his peers from countries far and wide as the president of Junior Civitan International Club.

Jeshua's journey to international leader wasn't without its challenges. Born in the Philippines, he and his family immigrated to the United States when he was seven. At such a tender age, Jeshua faced the daunting task of adapting to a new culture and new environment. Soon enough, he would find his footing and embrace the opportunities that came his way - including becoming president of Junior Civitan International.

Founded in 1927, Junior Civitan International brings together thousands of middle and high school students across the globe to participate in service projects like school cleanups, collection drives, awareness campaigns and volunteer activities at local agencies or in their own schools and communities. During its existence, the club has elected 50 presidents with Jeshua being the 51st. According to Sumter Junior Civitan Advisor Kyle Austin, Jeshua is the first president of the organization from Sumter.

"It's a big deal because the spot is obviously a little hard to come by, especially in an organization as big as ours," Jeshua said. "You actually have to put yourself out there, not only within Sumter, not only within South Carolina, but the entire organization."

"Coming into this role was a little scary for me," Jeshua admitted. Being president requires him to handle the logistics of the club, from running meetings to making agendas to speaking in front of a room full of the organization's executive leaders and his peers - a fear Jeshua was forced to face head on recently in Birmingham, Alabama.

In February, Junior Civitan members gathered for its annual leadership summit. There, Jeshua would introduce the keynote speakers for the banquet as well as give a speech of his own. Public speaking was not his strong suit in years past, and like many teenagers, he grappled with nerves and self-doubt whenever he had to speak in front of a crowd. But he challenged himself, pushing himself out of his comfort zone and gradually building confidence in his communication skills and his abilities as a leader.

"I think that's what's important to emphasize [about] being a leader; it is that you do not need to have 100% experience being in a leadership position and accepting those fears and understanding that it might happen, which it did to me," he expressed. "Sometimes, I've had those brain fart moments when I'm speaking and just not knowing what I'm about to say next."

"Public speaking was not a strong suit, but through trial and error and through understanding what it means to be a leader, I got way better at it and, like I said, I gave a speech Sunday night, which I hope inspired a lot of Junior Civitans."

His speech focused on overcoming fear. Since his freshman year, taking on several roles within the organization - from state district governor to region director to now president - he realized he had to be a role model to the younger Civitans, which included facing his own fears.

"Coming into a leadership position, don't expect to be 100% successful," he advised his peers in Alabama. "Expect failure because it's only then that you can learn from it and gain experience from it."

Jeshua has plans to give back to Sumter the support given to him before turning his tassel at graduation this May, from the unwavering support of the community to mentors, like his local Junior Civitan advisor "Mr. Austin," who encouraged him and was a voice of reason during his toughest times. As much as overcoming his public speaking jitters and embracing failure as a steppingstone of success benefited him, he hopes his determination and courage will inspire the next generation to pursue their passions and lead fearlessly.