Seniors take away life lessons and teamwork skills from their final DECA competition in Atlanta


Only the top ten percent of students in Michigan go onto the DECA Atlanta, Georgia competition. 50 states, with the addition of India, Canada, China, and more. This is where senior Ben Finklestein found himself last weekend, competing for the top three places where he would be awarded a medal.

At the competition, the FHC DECA finalists, consisting of seniors Irene Yi, Will Kuiper, Tristan Kerr, Jordan Wintrich, Max Marin, Sarah Obermeyer, Arshon Saadati, Elijah Gurley, and Jace Thornton, all competed to be in the top ten percent, in hopes that they would be awarded those very medals. There are two different sections of the competition: role play (a spontaneous situation or problem they are given to solve) or presentations (a project that takes months to construct). Each FHC student found themselves working hard to prepare for the competition.

Ben, along with Irene and Arshon, executed a project-based presentation with an innovative plan and a hypothetical product for the judges. 

“You have the most ‘focused group’, which is the group you’re working on your project or role play with, so you really want to get to know each other,” Ben said. “It’s really important to not only know your own strengths, but your group partner’s strengths as well.”

Upon arrival on Saturday, the team experienced an open ceremony similar to those of the Olympics, according to Ben, and on Sunday, they met the judges and competitors. The next day, they presented, and the competition was fierce. Despite their best efforts, the team did not make it on to the final round; but according to Ben, this was not a huge disappointment for them because only the top ten percent of competition went on to win.

Although he is moving into the next chapter of his life, the impact of the team will leave a lasting impact on his life in multiple aspects.

“DECA taught me how to be a leader and how to be proactive with my work,” Ben said, “Because you are not given a very structured schedule, it’s up to you. Especially when you’re doing a project [you have] to come up with your own deadlines and make sure everything is set in place. You have to learn how to be a good teammate.”

An aspect of the team that Ben personally loved was how dedicated everyone was to DECA and their project. They all strived for success, which in the end, was all Ben could wish for.

“Everyone in DECA is there because they want to be there, which is different from when you’re doing group projects in classes,” Ben said. “It’s more of a real-life application because when you’re at your job and have to do a group project, everybody wants to work together and puts in equal amounts of participation. Because it’s their job [people work hard], and their job depends on it.”

Sarah, one of the other finalists, attests to all that DECA has taught her, both with presenting skills and life lessons that are applicable even after high school. 

“I think it helped me practice for my future career,” Sarah said. “It also was assuring to realize that [because] I’m currently planning on majoring in business, I’m a little better at this than I thought.  I learned all about decision-making. It’s so important to be confident in your decisions, and it’s so important that you’re able to verbalize and present your ideas.”

Collectively, Ben and Sarah have gained many new skills through DECA, in addition to different experiences and fond memories. For Ben, he joined his freshman year, and after four years of practice, he was well-seasoned in the ways of DECA and gathered presentation skills as well as learned how to function at the highest level as a team. Unlike Ben, Sarah joined her senior year, which is uncommon in the DECA realm. She joined because of her desire for more experience in business before she went to college for that very degree.

While Ben was on the presentation team, Sarah showed off her skills in role play. This field differs in the unpredictableness of it all. Although Sarah can prepare for her merchandising, she cannot prepare for the problems the judges will ask her to solve, which proved to be a challenge for Sarah. Adding onto the stress of spontaneousness, it is also highly uncommon for first-year participants to make it all the way to nationals, as they are less experienced. Despite the setbacks, Sarah was able to leave the competition with more knowledge and experience than she could have ever anticipated.

I [left] the DECA competition in Atlanta knowing more than just my niche,” Sarah said. “My first prompt was really, really difficult because it wasn’t super related to my field. At first I was a little bit disappointed to come so far, all the way to nationals, and not feel good about my first role play. But, I learned all about being comfortable in all fields. In that situation, there wasn’t anything I could have done differently to prepare. However, in the future, I’ll be the most qualified employee if I’m able to do more than just the one thing I’m focused on.”

Although Sarah and Ben differ in experience and fields of competition, the thing they can both agree on is the level of workmanship and teamwork they both took away from the competition.

“Although we don’t compete together, we do a lot together,” Sarah said. “Everyone has crazy schedules when we compete, and everyone has different times for everything, but it was really a priority for everyone to still go out and be together. Everyone is really supportive of each other, which is great. Although we all didn’t always understand our fellow teammates’ events, everyone was so willing to help out each other. Everyone was constantly checking on each other and asking about how they thought they did and was always willing to listen.”

After their last DECA competition in Atlanta, Sarah and Ben found themselves saying goodbye to more than just the program and their teammates, but also their leader and mentor: business and marketing teacher Kristin O’Brien.

“The last reason I joined is because Mrs. O’Brien is one of my favorite teachers and is just amazing,” Sarah said. “She sold me on [when she told me DECA was] super fun and a good experience, which is so true.”  

After acquiring the program from social studies and business teacher Cal Anderson, O’Brien took it on as her own and has been running it for three years now. Through these three years, she has seen many successes and many students experience self-actualization and maximize their potential. As her students go on to graduate, O’Brien sees how much confidence and knowledge the program truly gave her students.

“I am always excited to see the DECA students graduate, especially those who are going on to study business (or related fields) in college,” O’Brien said. “Many keep in touch with me to let me know how their DECA experience helped them or to reminisce about the fun they had while participating in DECA.”

O’Brien agrees on how beneficial the program can truly be, taking classroom lessons and applying them to real-life situations. At the same time, it also teaches students more than what they can learn in a classroom, yet is applicable all the same.

“Aside from building confidence, you’re taking what you’re learning in a classroom setting and then applying it to a real-life setting,” O’Brien said. “You get to work on your presentation skills; you get to network and meet lots of people, especially at nationals, from all over the country. I think it helps build that confidence when you go into an interview. It helps with your comfort level so that you can present better. You can tell the people that have done it before because they have that experience that backs it up.”