I know many of you are already aware of the news that I am about to share with you, but I wanted to come here to share that news directly that I have decided to move on from OneWorld Now! and that my last day is in fact today. And before my term expires, I also wanted to share with you a few thoughts and final words of advice.
I have been a part of OneWorld Now! for exactly three years now, having started as a volunteer in February 2013. Like many of you, I was taking a leap in the unknown when I joined this organization. I knew almost nothing about it, but also like many of you, I followed the advice of one of my very good friends who told me that I should join it. And I hope that those of you who followed that advice are as glad that you did as I am that I did.
My first day at OneWorld Now! was a Friday, so I had the opportunity to attend a session of leadership, and I was so impressed not only be the staff members who were facilitating the workshop but even more so by the students who were there. I was impressed by the level of maturity and insight with which they participated in the discussions at that workshop, which was about media bias. I knew then that this was a program that would be worth committing myself to. By the way, some of those students are actually here in this room right now, volunteering as alumni.
For the next three years, I worked continuously to make the program a better and better experience for each new cohort of students. I can say with confidence that every year I have been here has been better than the last. I can also say with confidence that this program that I am leaving you is the best after-school program—the best youth development program—in the Pacific Northwest. No one else comes anywhere close. And having worked with some of the biggest and the best ones out there, I know this for a fact.
I would like to impress upon you just how unique a program this is. There are no other programs in the entire United States that offer the same combination of language classes, leadership training, and study abroad opportunities to high school students. Even the programs that do those things separately do not measure up to the way do it at OneWorld Now!.
There are many foreign language programs out there—although you will be hard-pressed to find another Arabic or Korean program for high school students anywhere else in Seattle. But even the other language programs that are out there, no matter how good they are, cannot boast the amazing language teachers that we have. They do not have Rachid, or Sarah, or Adam, who teach Arabic. They do not have Chiaching or Laura, who teach Chinese. And they do not have Kyung-Ja, who teaches Korean. Our language teachers are quite simply the best that are out there. As a matter of fact, just a few months ago, I was at a conference in Orlando with Rachid and Chiaching, who were asked to give a presentation on how to teach foreign languages for other language instructors from around the United States. So when other organizations want to know how to teach foreign languages, they ask the teachers at OneWorld Now!.
There are also many study abroad programs out there. But those study abroad programs do not approach it with the same goals that we have for you, which is not simply to stop at learning a language, but to use that language to communicate with real people, with other high students from around the world—to listen to them, to hear their stories, to learn about their thoughts and opinions, to understand their aspirations and their frustrations and the problems they face, to confront differences—to realize how infinitely complex the world is, and to recognize that for every deeply held opinion you may have, there are many people out there—perhaps hundreds, or thousands, or even millions of people—who have equally valid reasons to believe something completely different than what you believe. And there’s nothing wrong with that.
Finally, there is the leadership program, which is our secret ingredient. By now, many of you have come to realize that this is not a traditional leadership development program. While we do teach things like communication, public speaking, decision-making, assertiveness, and all those other skills associated with leadership, those things are not our main emphasis. We want to impart something much deeper than that. We want to equip you with the values and the mindsets to be the kind of leaders that the world desperately needs today. Anyone can learn how to preside at a meeting or how to give a speech—anyone can even run for president too, apparently—they just let anyone do it these days. But the more important question is: what kind of leader will a person be? What kind of leader do you want to be? What kind of world do you want to live in? You may have excellent communication skills, but what kind of thoughts and opinions are you going to express with them? And what kind of decisions are you going to make, and who will benefit from them? Those are the kinds of things our leadership program tries to get you to think about.
One of the best things about this organization is that we make the program accessible to you. We do all of this at very little cost—even study abroad, which is enormously expensive. The financial contribution that students make for their study abroad trips, while not insignificant, often doesn’t even cover the cost of the plane ticket to send you to China or Morocco or Russia. We also have no minimum GPA requirement, because while we recognize that having a high GPA is a very admirable and important thing, it is not a measurement of who you are as a person, or who you have the potential to become. The only thing we ask of students is to put everything you have into this program, and what we promise in return is that you will get back much more than you have put in. You may not realize it now, or next year, or the year after that. But you will eventually realize that you have become a fundamentally different because of our program, and if you don’t believe me, then you can ask one of our many alumni. You can ask the ones working in the State Department or the Department of Energy, or the ones studying overseas in China, Jordan, or France. You can ask the alumni who are doing good work all around the world.
But I would also like to caution you that I have seen a lot of opportunities like this wasted by a lot of people in my day. I traveled abroad often when I was in college, and I saw many of my fellow college students treat their study abroad programs like vacations—like a chance to party. In the worst of cases, they treated them as a chance to belittle other people in the world, to disrespect their culture, their history, their historical sites, their language, their clothing and appearance and so on. And then those same students—and there are many more like them in other universities—went on to become business leaders, managers, and political leaders. It’s those same people that now control much of our economy, our society, and our political system. They’re the people who are perpetuating so many of the problems that we have in society today.
That is why we need you. And that is why I given the last three years of my life to this program.
It has been the privilege of my life to work with all of you and the three classes of students before you. In my time here, the one constant joy has been to watch students grow and develop as leaders and, more importantly, as human beings, and although it was not always an easy job, it was always worth the effort if it meant creating more opportunities for students like you to travel abroad and learn about the world.
The task of running an organization like this is monumental, and to the extent that you have ever felt that this organization let you down—in a big or small way—the fault was mine, as I was in charge of the program. OneWorld Now! is in a constant state of self-improvement, and I admit that there are many improvement projects that I am leaving unfinished. But one thing I would like you all to keep in mind as you continue in this program, and as you watch it grow and improve as I have, is that OneWorld Now! is your program—you are the only reason that it exists. So if you ever feel that change needs to be made, always know that you are free to give us that feedback. You can tell the staff directly, or you can tell your Pod Leaders, who work tirelessly to advocate on your behalf. We depend entirely on their feedback and input to make decisions about the program. So if you want to practice being an agent of positive change in the world, you should always feel free to start making that change at OneWorld Now!.
So now my three years are over, and I want to thank you all for being my inspiration through all of these years. I have never believed in anything more deeply than I believe that young people like you are the leaders—not of tomorrow or of the next generation—but of today. You are the source of the values, the ideas, and the energy that drives positive change in the world. So my only hope is that you come to believe in yourselves as much as I believe in you.
Alex Lokela Minami