On Dec. 30th, 2011, I was celebrating my 20th birthday. On the other side of the world, Kim Jong-un was receiving the official title of ‘Supreme Commander’ from North Korea’s parliament. At 28 (certain sources differ on his age), Kim is only eight years older than I and only a few years older than most Yale graduates, therefore firmly part of our generation. He controls his nation’s nuclear arsenal and could single-handedly trigger a global conflict. But Kim Jong-un was not the only example of a young person assuming unprecedented levels of leadership this past year.
2011 has been a pivotal year of change globally. Of course, the Arab Spring offers the most striking example: young people seizing leadership to stand up to oppressive regimes. Mohamed Bouazizi, the Tunisian street vendor known for self-immolation that kicked off the Tunisian protests, was 26. Not long after, 21 year-old Tunisian rapper Hamada Ben Amor wrote the song ‘Head of State’ that inspired his Tunisian countrymen and became the anthem of Egyptian protesters in Tahrir Square. The movement has had a radical political impact in over 13 countries. In Chile, 23 year-old Camilla Vallejo led a nationwide movement for education that has reshaped the Chilean political climate.
At Yale this year, students have engaged in a range of civil society initiatives with global impact. Some Yalies were active in the Occupy movement, on the New Haven Green and at the Morgan Stanley info session protest that made national headlines. Other students participated in Jackson Institute dialogue with top global leaders. The Venezuelan Students Association hosted a summit of Venezuelan students and renowned Latin American academics here on campus. Many Yalies have continued to plan numerous Reach Out trips.
In addition, Yale students are deeply involved in local politics and the U.S. primaries, the selection of our president having huge international impact. These individual efforts play enormously positive and valuable roles on domestic and foreign levels. Young people abroad, however, have literally been changing the world themselves, now and directly.
The question for the Yale student body is how we as a group can play a major positive role in the global arena now. Social media and increased connectivity have created a global generation. Our citizenship responsibilities lie beyond exclusively local or national issues. While many Yalies set an example through their individual efforts, our campus still lacks a unified consciousness of global leadership. Our university has long stood for shaping the world leaders of tomorrow, but many young people our age across the world are making an international impact as the leaders of today.
There are myriad options for us as a unified Yale student community to demonstrate global leadership in real time. We do not have to start protests to make a difference. As a university, we should aspire to remain at the forefront of international discourse.
We missed some opportunities in 2011. Perhaps we could each have tried to connect with other youth leaders from different countries, hosting a dialogue that brought each of them together. We maybe could have reached out to mainstream media to show our campus’s support for peace and human rights initiatives. Perhaps we, as a student body, could have taken a unified stance towards the legal and civil society efforts to eradicate trafficking of women and children.
With all of the resources at our disposal here at Yale, students truly have the opportunity, even the duty, to be the hosts for this conversation on new, young global leadership. Yale can be that the place for interaction and connection for young people globally: a ‘headquarters’ for those looking to learn from and support each other as they seek to make a better world.
In 2012, let’s challenge ourselves to take greater initiative to connect on a global scale. We can engage and lead now. Global leadership should not just be an objective and responsibility for our future. Let’s add our Yale education to the courage and efforts of young people around the world, and let’s hold ourselves accountable this time next year.
Cristo Liautaud is a sophomore in Davenport College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.