This blog was written with Jess Wells and originally appeared on the Executive Symposium at Cisco Live!

As the Cisco Executive Symposium, IT Management Program, and Cisco Live open their doors, I’m reminded that it takes a village, and working hard in the village here are students from the Cisco Networking Academy who – alongside Cisco engineers – are building the wireless network to support the event.

Anybody who’s met me knows I love young people: their confidence, their honesty, the world of potential in their eyes. During my annual meet-and-greet with the academy students at Cisco Live I’m inspired by stories of mothers who have raised their children and now chosen network administration as their new career; of former U.S. Marines who now excel in cyber defense; of an academy student who dreams of living in Japan; of former teachers; a winner of the Army Achievement Medal while part of the Chemical Defense Program who’s now applying his determination to network defense. Each story a testimony to the ability to reinvent yourself, to adapt to changes in the economy, to follow a dream.

Ten students competed with essays and video to be selected from across the United States and Canada to attend. There’s also a large group of students from local Orlando-area academies — like Polk State University, DeVry, and Valencia College — that are also working the event as interns. A total of 40 students and 4 instructors over the course of the week — a large presence, which demonstrates the faith we have in the competence of our students! Many of them also plan to take their Cisco certification while onsite.

Founded in 1997, the Cisco Networking Academy program — with 10,000 academies in 165 countries –now teaches the skills needed to build, design, and maintain networks to hundreds of thousands of students worldwide every year. And to me, each one contains an inspiring story. Hats off to the Networking Academy!