The road snaked through fields and thickets of green as our coach bus, carrying a handful of students in grades nine through eleven, made its way to Ithaca, New York.
“Where are we?” someone asked from the back of the bus, gazing out at the forested country surrounding us.
“Canada?” another joked in reply.
Cornell University, where we were headed to lobby in an MUN conference, can seem like a world far removed from the small but vibrant hamlet of Thornwood, where our EF Academy campus is based. It is about a four hour drive from Westchester, and exists in a sort of bubble of its own. The campus is massive, a sprawling assortment of buildings and halls which has grown exponentially since the university’s foundation in 1865. The downtown area, referred to as “Collegetown” hosts Cornell favorites such as Collegetown Bagels, a cafe turned bar by night, as well as multiple souvenir shops, book stores and other local eateries. A 15 minute walk will led us to the busy Ho plaza, which hosts the Willard Straight Hall; a student center offering free popcorn, the constant buzz of independent projects being carried out, a film program and a selection of little rooms and charming fixtures.
The conference itself was played out in multiple buildings across Cornell, and kicked off on a Thursday night with a speech from former UN official Christopher Burnham. Burnham’s political resume and experience with the workings of UN itself is nothing short of impressive- he has served as Under Secretary General at the UN, Assistant Secretary to the State Department, state treasurer. During his tenure at the UN, his primary role was to provide increased transparency to the UN in the wake of the Oil for Food scandal. He also had a significant fiscal responsibilities, and served as the only fiduciary of the UN retirement fund. At the present, he perpetuates his international influence through his work as chairman and CEO of the merchant bank Cambridge Global Capital, a role for which he is further made suitable for in his history of employment at Deutsche Asset Management.
While sitting in the presence of such an awesomely accomplished individual was motivating in and of itself, Burnham further set the tone of the conference by shifting focus to the incredible and exponentially increasing rate of change our world is undergoing, particularly with the evolution of machinery and robotized mechanisms. Addressing the hundreds of students constituting his audience, myself amongst them, Burnham proclaimed: “You have the world by the tail; it is going to change more in the next 10 years than it’s changed in my lifetime. It’s going to change more in the next 30 years than it has in the last 200.”
These declarations fresh on our minds, us EF Academy students then went on to represent such delegations as Norway, Mongolia and the US in our respective committees, discussing topics from gender quality to border security. We enjoyed three exhausting days of late-night assembly meetings, speech writing and clause building. Though I believe we all found ourselves rather intimidated by the undeniable skill of delegates from other schools, we found personal triumphs in the quality of our own participation and the difference of that quality from that of our last conferences. We all left inspired, with a newfound fondness for the idyll tranquility of Ithaca, and with renewed faith in the power of intergovernmental cooperation and our potential to one day facilitate it. In the encouraging words of Chris Burnham; “You are the best and the brightest, from around the world you have come here tonight, to help each other and to learn. Don’t ever stop learning and don’t ever stop leading.”
Written by Maya Nylund, Grade 10 student