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Young Peace on Earth

Taking in the wisdom of Kofi Annan

After learning in a sophomore world history class about Mahatma Gandhi’s peaceful teachings that revolutionized independence movements for ever more, I was profoundly impacted by one of his ideas.  Gandhi wrote, “We must become the change we want to see in the world.”  This quote made me realize that if I wanted to affect any sort of change in my lifetime, I must first become that change myself.  However, as a young person, I would often feel like my youth inhibited me from creating a change. I was restricted by my inexperience, and it seemed many adults didn’t truly believe that young people had the ability to make a meaningful impact.

I found many young leaders feel the same way.  In 2010, two such leaders, Kate Robertson and David Jones, created the One Young World Summit.  Bringing over 800 delegates from 114 countries together in London, the summit served as a place for the leaders of tomorrow to discuss and create solutions for the issues they faced in their part of the world.  The second annual summit was held in Zurich, Switzerland and gathered over 1200 delegates from 171 countries.  This year, Pittsburgh was the lucky city chosen to host the 2012 One Young World Summit.

When I read that the One Young World Summit was being held in Pittsburgh this October, it seemed like the perfect opportunity for me to start actualizing Mahatma Gandhi’s message.  The summit was only open to delegates between the ages of 18-30, meaning that I was too young, but fortunately, the World Affairs Council of Pittsburgh made the summit accessible to high school students through a “junior reporter” program.  I applied and was accepted to be a junior reporter along with about 30 other high school students from the Pittsburgh area.

Party on...

The 2012 summit was the largest to date, attended by over 1300 delegates from 183 countries!  The opening night ceremony at Heinz Hall included a keynote address by President Bill Clinton.  Bob Geldof, the founder of Live Aid, and Muhammad Yunus, the inventor of microfinancing and microcredit, gave speeches about the importance of young leadership.  Joss Stone, a Grammy-winning singer from the UK,  as well as the Pittsburgh Symphony and the Children’s Festival Chorus, performed music that left the delegates inspired and ready for the summit.  After, the delegates walked to the Roberto Clemente Bridge and experienced Pittsburgh’s first ever Bridge Party.  The bridge was lined with booths from local restaurants and entertainment, and the delegates had the chance to take in some of Pittsburgh’s culture.  With my new group of friends from boot camp,  we walked the bridge, chatting with delegates from countries like Cyprus, France, Scotland, and South Africa.  Consistently, the delegates told us how impressed they were with our city; the people were welcoming, the city was clean, and the bridges were everywhere!  In that moment, I had never felt more proud to be from Pittsburgh.  Meeting the delegates in a relaxed, fun setting was a great way to kick off the summit, and I couldn’t wait for the next few days of One Young World.

Bhutto in action

On the first day, I wrote an independent article about the special session about women’s rights entitled “Women Up!”  The session was led by five truly inspiring women: Fatima Bhutto, a Pakistani journalist and activist; Carole Stone, a former producer for the BBC; Natalia Vodianova, a Russian model and philanthropist; Carolyn Miles, President and CEO of Save the Children; and Jessica Jackley, the co-founder of ProFounder and Kiva.org.  Additionally, I attended a break-out session debating the pros and cons of austerity measures to fix the European debt crisis.  After this session, I produced an audio piece highlighting the main points of the debate, and I worked with other junior reporters to produce a similar written article.

On the last day of the summit I had the amazing opportunity to interview Ron Garan, a NASA astronaut who has flown to the International Space Station.  The interview was filmed by my fellow junior reporters, and it was one of my greatest experiences at the summit. At one of the last speaker sessions, the delegates heard an address from the former Secretary-General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan.  Because of my reporter status, I was able to sit a few feet away from Annan as he gave his address.  The speech, one of the most inspiring and motivational at the summit, provided me with concepts and ideas to apply to my journey as a young leader.

An off-earth experience?

Besides hearing the leaders of our world impart their wisdom upon the future generation, I also had the opportunity to meet delegates from different countries.  One delegate in particular left a strong impression.  Her name was Asma, and she was the only female delegate to attend the summit from Afghanistan.  She told us about her struggle to travel to the United States – how her father had received death threats from his neighbors for giving her the money to travel to the summit.  When she first checked into her hotel room on the 17th floor, she was cautious to approach the large window that faced the city because she had to avoid going near windows in Afghanistan due to the constant threat of bomb activity. To me, Asma was truly living out Mahatma Gandhi’s message of being the change you wish to see in the world.  Rather than conform to the restrictive ideals of her society, she was doing everything she could to change them.  So many of the reporters were inspired by her message, and we wanted to become involved with helping her.  Through the Reporters Taking Action organization, we’ve started initiatives to help empower women in Afghanistan and organized a clothing drive for Afghani children to take place in February.  Asma’s message inspired us to take action, and we found ourselves living out Gandhi’s idea of being the change you wish to see in the world.

Becoming the change....

Overall, the One Young World Summit was a life-defining experience. Seeing the changes that young people were affecting all over the world reminded me over and over of Mahatma Gandhi’s message. The delegates were not only changing the world; they were being the change they wanted in the world.  The five days at the summit changed the way I view other countries and other people.  It’s truly impossible to communicate everything I learned, but I try and get the message out as much as possible.  Since the summit, I’ve been interviewed about my experience on the Saturday Light Brigade and spoken at my high school’s international speaker’s day.

Being part of the International Baccalaureate Program since elementary school, I felt I had a global perspective before attending the summit.  However, attending One Young World solidified my belief that having a global perspective is one of the most important tools to have in the 21stcentury.  Because of what I learned at the One Young World Summit, I know that in the future I have the skills to become the change I wish to see in the world.

3 Responses to Young Peace on Earth

  1. Thank you for sharing your inspirational message. Can’t wait to see what doors are opened for you next Brenna!

  2. Brenna,
    Iam encouraged that when it seems so many ungratefull nonthinking young people seem to take delight in tearing down what generations before them sacrificed to give them better lives, there are intelligent thinking energetic idealistic young peple like yourself that will carry the species forward.
    You go girl!

  3. Congrats Brenna!

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