Recently, I attended the Heads’ and Reps’ Annual Regional Meeting (ARM) of Round Square. Our membership includes a diverse group of 40 schools across the Americas, which comprises Canada, USA, Mexico, the Caribbean and Latin America. In addition to planning and dialogue between schools, we also ask ourselves: what impact are our global education programs having on our students longer term?
One of our conference sessions included presentations and dialogue involving two impressive young adults formerly from Palmer Trinity, the host school in Miami. The two engaging twenty-something alumni addressed the topic of millennials as global citizens. Their perspectives were certainly interesting and noteworthy.
Andrea is a Mexican-American who graduated a year ago from Harvard and is on a coveted Fulbright Scholarship this year. She works directly with young marginalized Latino immigrants in the USA, many of them known as “DACA Dreamers”: born in the USA, but children of undocumented immigrants. There are approximately one million so-called dreamers across the country. They are currently under the threat of deportation by the Trump administration, which is the focus of much negotiation between Republican and Democratic leaders. In fact, this is the central issue that led to disagreements on funding several weeks ago and the subsequent two-day shutdown of the federal government due to a budget impasse.
The other student, Dax, is a Colombian-American who had lived in five South American countries before landing at Palmer Trinity in Miami for high school. He is a graduate of Georgetown University’s Institute for the Study of Diplomacy. He noted that while living in Brazil as a boy, he witnessed horrendous environmental conditions in major cities, including raw sewage openly running down steep slopes into peoples’ homes, and serious pollution in the harbour of Rio de Janeiro. His concern for the environment led to the creation of an organization called the Global Ocean Refuge System (GLORES), which has inspired thousands of youth around the world to stand up and act on ways to improve the ways we treat, protect and conserve our precious oceans.
These young adults were clearly excellent students, but they also possessed more than just classroom smarts. During and following high school, they have been passionately engaged in social and environmental causes beyond traditional schooling.
In fact, both Andrea and Dax thanked their school for providing meaningful global opportunities that challenged their norms, their perspectives and day-to-day experiences. This included foreign exchanges, service opportunities and classes, such as the study of Buddhism that delved into the true meaning of compassion and empathy. They reiterated that these experiences today form the primary lasting and impactful memories of their high school years. They insisted that experiential and activity-based learning helped create more meaning and relevance for them as teens, which has stayed with them as they have grown older.
They remarked that those global experiences as students were also key in their personal development, as they helped expose them to difference and allowed them to see people as different, but equal. They expressed concern that in society at large these days, too many young people don’t really know much about people who are very different in terms of socio-economic class and life experience. Andrea was moved by an experience while at Palmer Trinity and on exchange in France. It was the simple fact that her exchange host in a public high school in France could never afford to go to a cinema for a movie unless she worked as a babysitter. This wasn’t Andrea’s experience, living an upper middle-class life in South Florida – it was a bit of a wake-up call.
Andrea and Dax reiterated that they are committed to service and improving their communities. Ultimately, they shared that true service is about people, and how to help those who are marginalized and on the fringes. Dax noted that perspective matters a lot and Palmer Trinity school helped him challenge his perspectives. Yet, he is concerned that information is now being disseminated online in a manner that is very targeted and divisive – so-called fake news, a development that is both important and dangerous.
There is a lot of talk these days about a “Facebook bubble”; only connecting with people like you online, sheltered from true diversity in rest of the world. Last week, I asked our students if they live in such a bubble? How and when are their views, values and priorities fundamentally challenged? Do they actually seek different perspectives, or are they living under the illusion that they can simply wait and start to do so when they get older?
It was powerful to see confident young adults – “millennials” – remark on what has had the most profound influence on their lives, their character and their priorities. It was a great reminder that embedding global experiences shouldn’t wait. Our students should feast on all the global opportunities afforded them because the lasting impact will be significant. Next fall’s Round Square International Conference theme is Bring Your Difference. My advice to students is that they should begin to seek and invite more difference into their lives now and they will certainly be richer for it. – Christopher Shannon, Headmaster