Written by: Megan Lee, 2011 Graduate R. F. Wagner High School, MCNC Youth Liaison
Upon reminiscing about their high school years, many people recall first a defining moment or time that epitomizes their entire experience. They think back to all those jokes that lost their immature humor, the moment summer vacation began at the end of senior year; the mindset that told them the world existed, condensed and pressed into hallways, classrooms, and offices.
In a sense, we are lucky to be able to think back to high school and question what exactly we were thinking in the time. I know I am lucky. Attending Robert F. Wagner Jr., Secondary School for Arts and Technology was an experience in itself both irreplaceable and impossible to recreate anywhere else. This is greatly due to the people who made the time go by so fast, but it is also due to my participation in Middle College National Consortium projects.
I participated in MCNC’s student conferences for two consecutive years with each year unique to its own theme and project. In my first year, we focused on water conservation and sustainability. My school group met on Fridays until nine o’clock at night, Saturdays from ten in the morning until the sunset. I can never forget those dinners we had together so regularly that we became a family as we ate pizza off of cardboard or toasted to MCNC with glasses of cold tap water, symbolic of our project.. That year, we were targeting the privatization and pollution of the availability of water.
In my second year, we dreamed of rooftop gardens all over New York City, a trend that would spread to cities all over the country and then the world. I would spend five hours after school arguing with one of my friends in the group over a speech we would have to make in front of the entire school the next morning. I would say that a semicolon belonged somewhere, and he would argue that semicolons are too technical, and that a comma was more suitable for the occasion. The custodian would come into the room and tell us he was closing the school in the midst of our speech rehearsal. With both projects, we dreamt big, convinced ourselves that our vision was the inevitable future, and then somehow forgot our promises to the cause once our plane touched down upon our arrival back home, either from Greenville or Rocky Mountain. I realize that so many people view what we students do in MCNC as just projects – that they are things we create that reach the end of their shelf life once they are bagged into a two minute video and displayed in a gallery walk. But they’re not. Anybody who has ever spent five days at an MCNC conference will tell you that their experience there was life-changing. The phrase will sound like a cliché, but participating in the MCNC does change a student’s life. My two years with the student conference opened my eyes to a world greater than I am, because never before had I, as a thirteen year old kid, thought that maybe somebody in a third world country would give up anything for a glass of clean drinking water, or that I can do something about this. The preparation, alone, for an MCNC conference has the potential to fuel a student with confidence, ambition, and hope as they travel around their city feeling like they can inform their public about something, instead of it always being them, the kid, learning. The conference, traveling to a different state for a cause bigger than themselves, and for an original project made for this cause, is an entirely different story on its own, empowering beyond words. To treat this experience with an expiration date – well, it breaks my heart to realize that my high school MCNC group decided that an effort for our world was possible only between February and May of 2010 and that I will have to start the cause again all by myself. Now as a freshman in college, I am studying Psychology and working part-time at the MCNC. Having so much independence and freedom, I am involved in world issues. People are occupying Wall Street, and I want to know why. I’m not the same high school kid who was uninterested because it was occurring somewhere out of sight. I also look towards the future. Everything I do today, tomorrow, one week from now, will contribute to the future, so that one day this world will be a place exactly as the one that today, exists in our dreams. One day, I will become a successful psychologist, or a writer, or an artist, or a teacher, and in my profession, I will change the world by helping other people change it too. I want other students to take away from their MCNC experience exactly the same or more than I did. They will gain an unforgettable five day trip, but the hope, the confidence, the dream, and determination: that is all variable. And so the MCNC Youth Voices group on Facebook will make this a key element. MCNC Youth Voices will provide students access to communicating with other MCNC students from different states in a way that is quick and convenient to them. Through this network, students will be able to constantly update each other about their experience. What do they think about the theme? What are their stories pertaining to it? Students will be able to realize together how world issues influence their lives; that they are part of a vast global community beyond high school that they need to participate in for themselves and for everybody else. They will be able to tell each other what they are doing in their class, what they are learning that really has them thinking, what they are planning for their projects and what do their peers from across the country think about this, how they can make their project more effective. If there is an event about diversity in California, a New York student can save $700 by telling a Californian student to attend it. That student can then tell the MCNC Youth Voices community what happened there and what was valuable there to take away. What do the students want to do about what they learned? This network will allow students to work together, join together, and, in the process realizing they have a voice, impact their nation, by using each other’s ideas to have a more universal and thoughtful understanding. Students will basically become significant voices in a conversation with their world. Living becomes a dialogue. They will no longer feel powerless to their world. By sharing with the public messages grounded in one common dream pertaining to a world theme, student voices will magnify the messages of each of their projects, that will become lifelong dedications; and they will be changing the world. When I think of high school, I will always think about the people I spent it with, the hours I spent in school when I could have been home set in front of a television, the initiatives I attempted and never fully completed as planned, the hope I acquired that I will bring with me everywhere I go. When these students and future students think back to high school, they will think of the friends they met who lived in another part of the country. They will remember what they did that was unlike any other student, how they realized that they mattered as an individual, and how much things have changed since they last thought to themselves, “The world could be so much greater than it is today.”