By Patrick McArdle
Dozens of students from around Vermont came together at Rutland High School on Thursday, April 5 to discuss “Education for All,” the theme of the fourth Global Issues Network conference.
Greta Solsaa, a RHS junior, said she had been involved with the conference since she was a freshman.
“It’s incredible to see how it’s grown and how we’ve tackled different issues. This year it’s on global education, and I think that’s incredibly important. It’s been really inspiring to see all of the activism that is taking place both in the keynote speaker’s presentation and the different sessions that have gone on. There is so much drive and passion and vision for the future here, so I hope activism can take place after today,” she said.
Andrew Cunningham, a 2004 graduate and global education adviser with the Aga Khan Foundation in Geneva, Switzerland, said he had attended his junior prom and learned he was the class salutatorian in the same gymnasium where he spoke that day.
Cunningham’s salutatorian speech inspired his speech, which included stories about people he met and how they taught lessons like “give ‘til it hurts,” and finding teachable moments under extreme duress.
Among the props Cunningham displayed during his speech was the driver’s license he had gotten when he was still a Rutland High School student.
“Now why? It is to remind me that we are old enough, every single person in this room is old enough, to not wait to take action,” he said.
Cunningham pointed specifically to the examples set by Solsaa, the founder of the Amnesty International Club of Rutland High School; Anny Lin, who co-founded the school’s Feminism Club; and Victoria Quint, who organized the Rutland March for Our Lives last month.
The conference has a different theme every year, but the day’s discussion sessions and presentations cover a variety of topics that go beyond the theme. Many of the presentations are given by RHS students based on their independent study, or “Capstone,” projects, while others, like a session on Project VISION, are given by adults, like Commander Matt Prouty of the Rutland Police Department.
Global Issues Network (GIN) conferences take place around the world, but the Rutland conference is the only one at a public school. The first one, 15 years ago in Luxembourg, was started to give young people a chance to work on solutions to problems they had inherited from previous generations.
Marsha Cassel, a world language teacher at RHS and one of the teachers who introduced the Capstone projects, said students were empowered to do much of the organizing for the conference.
Haley Lassen, a sophomore, said creating and organizing this year’s conference had become part of their education.
“We obviously had to explore the topics on the topic, ‘Education for All’ which is very broad, but I think forming the relationships with the organizations (involved in the conference) and the people who want to put effort into learning more about this and educating themselves, I think that’s something that I have gained from this,” she said.
Emma Pilz, also a sophomore, who, with Lassen, served as the master of ceremonies at the beginning of the conference, said she had learned about taking on a leadership role.
“Learning what education is like throughout the entire world, really puts into place how privileged we all are here. I think learning all this has really made me want to help people in other countries that don’t have the opportunities that we do,” she said.
Cassell said besides RHS students, the conference hosted students from Leland & Gray Union High School in Townshend, South Burlington High School, Springfield High School, Middlebury Union High School and Mount St. Joseph Academy.
The GIN conference involved students in all grades at RHS.
In addition to the sessions and presentations, which students could register to attend according to their interests, the students had two group lunch sessions and a “global village” discussion where they could share ideas and brainstorm solutions to global problems.