In class, I’ve always been the type to raise my hand at every question, the answer on the tip of my tongue. So when I entered college, I walked into my first class, books in hand, ready to show what I knew. And then something amazing happened. The professor started to talk about things I had never even heard of.
In my first year, I learned about genocide in Rwanda and Yugoslavia, democratization in Poland and Hungary, disappeared persons in Latin America, and government repression in Tiananmen Square. This was all new. I felt swindled. Tricked. My tax-dollar-funded, public school education had conveniently failed to mention all these events that had changed the course of world history and violated the dignity of millions of people. Why had I bothered to learn the names of the Niña, the Pinta and the Santa Maria when I could have been learning the names of Havel, Allende and Milosevic?
I wasn’t prepared for the information that met me in the lecture halls of my university. Genocides weren’t supposed to happen in the twentieth century; we learned from the Holocaust. Governments were supposed to be democratic; popular sovereignty was the only kind of sovereignty. Children weren’t supposed to be dying from famine; the US sent aid to stop that kind of thing. My entire world view was shattered.
As time went on, I grew less dumbfounded and more outraged. Slowly, I began raising my hand again, this time to ask questions. Why did this happen? How could superpowers like the US stand by and do nothing? How can we stop this from happening again? My professors explained how money impacts policy decisions, that people aren’t always first on the minds of those in power. They taught me about international human rights law, and the degree to which it is binding. Most importantly, they taught me that there are other people like me out there, trying to put the dignity of the person at the forefront of policy.
I began to encounter these people like me. Some of them introduced me to the World Youth Alliance. The more I heard about WYA, the more I loved it and needed to be a part of it. I signed the charter, and a few months later, I applied for an internship. Today, I find myself sitting at a desk in the middle of WYA Headquarters. However, this story isn’t about how I became a WYA intern. Ultimately, this is a story about how I will never again be able to raise my hand with the answer to every question. Nor will I be in the dark about what’s happening in the world around me. Most importantly, I will not be silent about the need for a universal recognition and respect for the dignity of the person.