Several hundred District youths chanted, shouted and cheered themselves last night at graduation ceremonies for a city-sponsored youth leadership summer program, turning Howard University's Blackburn Ballroom into a combination camp revival, political convention and executive training seminar.

The 587 students -- selected from public, private and parochial high schools and junior high schools -- are all members of Mayor Marion Barry's Youth Leadership Institute, a year's program of training in interpersonal, business and civic skills that culminates in intensive two-week leadership seminars.

"I look at this program as being a jewel because a jewel is precious," said Lisa Moore, who was elected "mayor" of the just-concluded session. "It has quality."

Moore's words were greeted, as were nearly every other speaker's, with cheers of "youth, youth," from the graduates, who stood, clapped and thrust two fingers in the form of a "Y," symbolizing their age and potential, into the air again and again.

Jackie Robinson, executive director of the institute, was speaking as much to the crush of family and friends as he was to the students themselves when he stressed that they were "ordinary young people" with promise.

"These are not special children coming in" to the program, Robinson said, "but however, going out they are special."

"You come here and stay and you grow," said Shannon Foster, 16, who will enter her senior year at Banneker Senior High School in September. "Once you come here, you learn {skills and outlook} so well you can give it to others. It's something that I'll never forget."

Stacey McDonald, 16, who is also a Banneker student, said learning about trust between individuals and that "if you hurt, I hurt," pushed her further toward an ambition to study psychiatry. McDonald said that "no matter how a person {behaves outwardly} . . . there's another person, a caring person, deep down inside."

"I want to teach people how to come out of themselves. Before the program, there were parts of me that I didn't know about."

But while the graduates reflected on the future last night, they also had a ball. And Barry, who created the institute in 1979, was the chief reveler. When the mayor arrived to address the throng midway through the ceremony, he began with a jubilant "Hello, Winners" and finished by leading varying permutations of students and well-wishers in at least seven versions of a rowdy call-and-response that ended with "We are the greatest."

In between, the mayor reminded the graduates of the heritage they share with their parents and their duty to serve their communities "because young people, you are the brightest, the most creative {and} . . . the most honest."