Elisabeth Fidei-Bagwell (USA, UWC USA 2005-2007)
UWC-USA’s Annual Conference 2007 took place on February 1 and 2. The conference focused on “Weapons for Peace: Global Militarism in Practice and Mindset,” a topic chosen by all-school election. There were eight students in the organizing group: Aditya (Singapore), Jazmin (Paraguay), Jay (India), Russell P. (USA-New Jersey), Bar (Israel), Scarlett (Dominican Republic), Héctor (Peru), and myself (USA-Illinois).
Our first meetings were intense, passionate, and exciting as we discussed and debated all the different issues and possibilities that could be incorporated into our topic. Our diverse personal and cultural experiences held great weight in those early discussions. Some of us were familiar with the dilemma of having to face mandatory military service in our own countries once we finished at UWC, the fear and struggle of paramilitary groups fighting for justice through terrorism, or the derision and confusion of being seen both as the world’s superpower and its detriment; being denounced for meddling even while called into action. We wanted to present a conference that would be stimulating, creative, controversial, and memorable for everyone, and our primary task was getting speakers to come. This proved much more difficult than any of us expected. So immersed in the UWC culture, it felt strange to have to convince adult intellectuals and political figures of why they should come visit our school, why the student body was extraordinary, why the UWC movement was a worthwhile cause for which they should volunteer their time. We spent months scrambling for speakers and then, suddenly, in the course of a few days, we were overjoyed to find ourselves with almost too many. In the end, we weren’t able to represent all of the diverse points of view and life experiences that we had hoped to represent and were faced with the challenge of creating the best possible conference using the resources we had.
The weekend before the conference began, we all stayed up late in Jazmin’s room, wrapped in blankets and drinking sparkling apple cider as the final touches were put on PowerPoints, films, workshops, and logistics. It was hard to tell whether we were more excited or nervous. We could barely believe that we had come this far, and it was finally about to happen. The conference went off without a hitch. We dressed up, equipped with walkie-talkies for cross-campus communication, and herded both students and speakers from discussions on pacifism in the twentieth century by a Rastafarian Jamaican professor, to the local Las Vegas army recruiter’s presentation, to the psychology of war by a well-known intellectual (among several others). The conference did prove controversial, especially when listening to the almost constant debates going on between the senior Israeli government official for Arab affairs, Israeli students, and Arab students and teachers. On the final afternoon we stood again in front of the school and each spoke on what he or she had learned throughout the course of the conference—the insights gained, questions raised, or realizations discovered. Though intense, I think the conference was a rewarding and meaningful experience for everyone involved.