The Student Leadership Conference at UBC this year (SLC 2008) is unanimously agreed to be the best one yet. I can personally testify that I was lucky enough to enjoy the conference from start to finish.
The opening was fun and energetic, and the first workshop that I attended to by Jinny Sims, president of BC Teacher’s Association who was the leader of a controversial union strike, and Dr. Gary Poole, Director of Teaching and Academic Growth at UBC, was great. (Great idea to start the day with these distinguished, highly engaging professional speakers.)
They both used personal anecdotes that led to their message. Ms. Sims used a story about a how she helped a troubled youth and how he became her most significant achievement even after 30 years of teaching and acting as the leadership of BCTF. Her messages: find your passion and let it drive you, be with by people you are trying to lead (don’t run ahead of everyone else), and when you want to hang onto your title, you’ve had it for too long.
Dr. Poole has already established a reputation as one of the greatest speakers on campus, and he surely did not disappoint. He asked us to think of something that we are proud of learning, went on to talk about him learning Spanish, his daughter learning difficult medical procedures, and came back to ask us: was whatever you are proud to learn “put into” you, or did someone “draw it out”? Like wise, should leaders put ideas, energy, motivation into others, or help them draw those attributes out? He believes in the latter.
Then I went to a great student workshop and presented what I hope to be a good workshop, and then came the closing keynote: Stephen Lewis.
Such passion, such emotion, such motivation! This man once again captivated the entire audience, and brought the most pressing world issues into such sharp focus, in such a way that everything else seems so trivial and irrelevant. The horror in Rwanda and Darfur, the petrifying hell for women in Congo, the apocalyptic climate change, the raging HIV/AIDS pandemic; and in response to all that, the shameful silence of the West.
And this man delivered these profound messages with style. The emotional range of his voice was unlike any other speaker I’ve heard of; authoritative when he stated facts and figures, light and playful when he used humor (great humor, too!) to break up the air, and when he painted the pictures and described his personal responses, his voice was so emotional I thought he must be sobbing on stage.
No doubt Stephen Lewis’ speech touched everyone’s heart. But what can we do? These issues are so profound, so catastrophic, and so impossible to solve they make the heart cold. Summate Bill Gates, Stephen Lewis, and dozens if not hundreds of non-profits, NGOs, even pharmaceutical giants like Merck, and what do you get? A passionate Mr. Lewis who sobs at night about the continued, seemingly unstoppable spread of AIDS.
Add up the likes of David Suzuki and Al Gore, and tons and tons of sound scientific evidence plus even Hollywood (science and Hollywood, you must believe in one or another!) , but we can still count down the years we have left for a habitable planet.
Stephen Lewis constantly points his fingers at the government of the West, as if they are mobilized, the world can be saved. We will send troops to end the genocides and war on women; we will agree on environmental protocols and meet them; we will provide enough founding to treat all AIDS patients and stop the pandemic.
So we students, and the civil society at large, should be the pushing force to drive our governments into doing that.
But I have to admit, after hearing about these horrific stories for several years, I see nothing but ignorance, self-deceit, selfishness, and apathy. All of the great, passionate, mobilized leaders in the world are immediately immobilized by the ineffectiveness of the NGOs, the layers after layers of obstacles in the political and economic system, and the beat-down, exhausted voices of the public which fell into defeated silence.
I wanted to close this with a positive note, but there you go.
The wine and cheese for organizers, volunteers, and presenters after the SLC was great though. I got to shake hands with Stephen Lewis himself. Yay.