“For generation WHY, there is WYA. You are the leaders of and for this generation, asking the tough questions, seeking to generously engage in dialogue and debate, pursuing answers to the big questions that give life meaning but are very often buried beneath all of the noise,” Clare Halpine – Director of WYA North America.
In the warm light and welcoming atmosphere at the World Youth Alliance’s headquarters, more than seventy emerging leaders across North America engaged in intellectual discourse and attentively listened to discussions focused on the complex theme “The Apparent Trap: Ideology, Education and Health” from November 13 to 15, 2015.
After seven months of meticulous preparation, the Emerging Leaders Conference is the World Youth Alliance North America’s sixth annual event that brought together an impressive line-up of speakers from reputed institutions such as Williams College, Emory University, University of Texas, and McGill University. The participants, varying among professionals, undergraduates, graduates and high school students, live in a diversity of locations, from New York, Texas, Connecticut in the United States to Toronto in Canada.
On the first night of the conference, World Youth Alliance North America kept the tradition of showcasing the young talent from WYA’s orchestra chamber, underscoring one of its core missions – providing culture and art programs for integral human development. The tiny stage did not hamper the artists from indulging their passion and the harmonious melodies from captivating the audiences. With confidence, three young musicians (the youngest of whom was in seventh grade) then shared how music and performance had molded them into who they were. “Music has helped me grow as a person,” a member of the orchestra chamber claimed.
The second day of the conference was a trigger for an outburst of intellectual discussions on ideologies, art, literature, health, education, political issues and others among the participants.
Anna Halpine, Founder of World Youth Alliance, gave an introduction to ideology along with answers to the question “Why WYA?” She presented a brief overview of the organization and demonstrated some concrete solutions that World Youth Alliance has worked on to promote the dignity of human person around the world, such as the Human Dignity Curriculum and FEMM.
After Halpine, Dr. Jame Nolan, a professor of Sociology from Williams College, drew the audiences’ attention with his speech “The Triumph of the Therapeutic: In Politics and Education.” Contemplating on this, Santos, a participant from Boston College shared, “Something that really resonates with me was when Dr. Nolan talked about having a thick skin and a soft heart. That relates to how you take things, how you receive things from the outside world. Having a thick skin means you resist things that are bad, … and improve yourself and not get stuck up on what the society says you have to…Having a soft heart, yet thick skin to protect yourself.”
Coming from McGill University, Dr. Paul Nathanson, who was also a speaker in the Emerging Leaders Conference 2014, presented an intensive research through his speech “Identity Politics: How We Got Here and Where to Go from Here.”
Nathanson discussed about identity, identity politics, ideology, proposing dialogue as “an alternative to debate in connection with where might go from here” and so on.
Dr. Paul Nathanson was immersed in the complex studies. “Most academics love to deconstruct what they consider as ‘patriarchal’ or ‘euro-centric’ texts, but how many would care to deconstruct environmentalist or feminist texts? Not many. At the core of many post-modernist attempts at deconstruction, I think, is the hypocrisy of a double standard,” he observed.
“[We should] Keep on promoting healthy dialogue, respecting what the other person is saying, and not letting inhibitions come in the way,” Munoz, a participant from Boston college commented on the speech.
“We need to maintain some intellectual, moral and aesthetic…We have to have interaction with the great things of the past,” Bauerlein said.
An English professor from Emory University, Dr. Mark Bauerlein is the author of The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future. He publishes in publications such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal and so on. Dr. Bauerlein observed that the popular culture had made many grown men act like teenagers; he advised youth in his speech “Generation Y: Stupefied and in Jeopardy”, “There are more significant things going on than what happened in the party. There are more important images to look at than that photo of the plate of food you are about to digest.”
Following Dr. Bauerlein, Dr. Donald Hilton from University of Texas elaborated on the effects that pornography has on the society. “Internet porn is really changing the world, one click at a time,” he commented. In his speech “Pornography as a Public Health Concern: A Medium of Addiction and Exploitation”, Dr. Hilton, choosing to approach the topic “in a compassionate position”, presented statistics showing the increasing number of people who watch porn nowadays. “I am afraid of a culture in which we are so codified that’s normal – that’s sex,” he said.
The day ended late with the panel featuring four speakers and a cocktail party that gave participants the opportunity to mingle with others and engage in intellectual discussions. The first floor of WYA headquarters was filled with inquisitive minds threaded with endless conversations, laughter and a cozy atmosphere.
Hough, a student from Rutgers University, described the Emerging Leaders Conference as “rejuvenating”. He said that the discussion “is especially relevant on college campus”, where he shouldn’t be “afraid to speak up for these issues I class” since “a big part of human dignity is freedom of expression”.
Kim, another participant coming from Rutgers University, said that the conference was “enlightening” to him, because he met with young people “who have passion and drive to bring about changing the world.” “The most profound thing I got out of this was how WYA aims not to just complain about the problems but really seeks solutions, such as FEMM and the HDC.”
The last day of the exciting weekend was started with the inspiring speech from Weronika Janzuk, the Director of Education at World Youth Alliance. Before presenting intensive information in her speech “An Introduction to FEMM and HDC”, she chose to share the personal story of why she had committed to designing the Human Dignity Curriculum and working on FEMM, living the WYA mission. “Why have I dedicated my time, my energy and my heart to work for WYA professionally? The answer to the question I am here has very much to do with the theme of this weekend’s conference; it has very much to do with ideology,” she shared.
Lord Pomperada, currently serving as WYA President, is the last speaker of the Emerging Leaders Conference. Similar to Weronika, he dedicated his speaking time to sharing with others a personal reflection of why he decided to reject other job offers to work for WYA. “World Youth Alliance is not only an organization; it is a family,” he said. Naming his speech “How to be a Catalyst for Change with WYA”, Pomperada encouraged young people to follow their passions and continue helping others. To get involved with WYA in promoting human dignity, youth can sign up to become members, do online Track A training, found a WYA chapter at their communities and apply for the internships offered at six regional offices.
See more photos from the 2015 Emerging Leaders Conference here.