I’ve been in college for the past three years with one main goal in mind: to get my bachelor’s, get a graduate degree, and then get a job that would let me get involved in human rights advocacy. I have this grandiose plan that I’ll save the world.
One day, anyway.
Last month, though, I realized that the “one day” was what was holding me back.
My school hosted the third annual meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative University (CGI U), and the weekend completely changed my view of my long-term goals, mainly by showing that they don’t need to be as long-term and far off as I’ve always assumed.
CGI U’s purpose is getting the youth active in changing the world by showing us that we don’t have to wait. We can, in fact, take action. I spent the weekend surrounded by 1,300 of my peers from all fifty states and over eighty countries around the world – other college students, just like me, who had a vision of making the world a better place, and were determined to try.
Our age group – those in college and graduate school – are always seen as idealists. We’re perched on the edge of childhood and adulthood, with an understanding of the world’s issues but with the optimism of a child who hasn’t yet been jaded by disappointment and failure. We’re the dreamers, the thinkers, the ones who truly believe we can make a difference. But we’re also convinced that we’re not yet able to do so – that we lack the education, the resources, the connections. And maybe we do. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to get those as you go along. Some of the projects featured over the weekend demonstrated just that. Like the guy who designed an emergency text alert system that helped find victims after the earthquake in Haiti. Or the handful of panelists who explained that they got their start by one day just hopping on a plane. These students are no different than any other with an idea – except that they took a chance and did something with their idea.
As amazing as the conference is, you don’t need to have attended to understand this attitude or learn from these panelists. All you need is an idea, and a passion to drive it forward.
So, where do you start? Well, first, come up with an idea. Find an issue you care about, really and truly. Passion is key. Next, research; find out everything you can about the issue and what has or hasn’t been done. Then, come up with something you think should be done. The rest snowballs from there.
A personal drive and commitment is what you need more than anything else. If you show you’re passionate, and start getting your idea out in the open, people will follow. The best thing is that college students have many more resources than they realize. Student organizations are a great place to start; groups such as Invisible Children and countless others start and mainly function at the campus level. Just forming an organization or getting a student organization to support you gives you manpower and sometimes even funding to get your project off the ground, and it’s also a good way to get your idea to spread. Many student organizations are affiliated with other branches at other schools, with local community groups, or even just academic departments, all of which can support and further the project.
What’s also great about using campus resources is that it also allows students who don’t necessarily have an original idea to find a project or cause they care about. Even if you don’t have your own plan, if there’s something you’re passionate about, campus resources allow you to find it and work with it.
One of the other major points stressed at the conference is the power of social media and the internet. An entire session was devoted to the discussion of using Facebook and Twitter to promote a cause. Just look at the 2009 elections in Iran: it was college-aged students not only protesting in the streets, but also taking pictures with their cell phones and posting updates on Twitter that allowed the rest of the world to know what was actually happening, even as foreign media was banned from broadcasting. One of the speakers at CGI U, Oscar Morales Guevara, is the founder of the Facebook fan page “One Million Voices Against FARC” (don’t worry, I posted the English translation); he and those working with him organized members from around the world in a global protest against the militant group though a series of Facebook messages. All you really need is a popular Twitter feed, a strong Facebook base, and maybe a YouTube video, and you have the world within your reach.
So, I leave you with the advice of Sam Adelsberg, one of the panelists from this weekend, who founded the Lend for Peace program for conflicts in the Middle East: “get your hands dirty.” Dive in. Find what motivates you, and get started. Because we, the college students, are in fact the dreamers, the thinkers. And we are the ones who can make the difference. We’re not powerless; we actually are in a better position than anyone else to inspire change – if only we’re willing to try.