Written by: Bethany Kogut
A little over a week ago I returned from a once in a lifetime trip to Berkeley, California. I was accompanied by 9 other Michigan State students and 1,200 other world changers. I was granted an amazing opportunity to attend the Clinton Global Initiative- University (CGI-U) Conference with a few of my peers. We each decided that we had the power to make a difference in an area of society that we felt was in trouble. CGI-U recognized these problems and broke them down into five focus areas: Education, Environment and Climate Change, Poverty Alleviation, Peace and Human Rights, and Public Health. Each student or student group who was accepted to attend this conference applied with a commitment to action. As I was working with my team to develop our commitment to action, I realized how complex and wicked the problems are that we were attempting to solve. This realization came to me when we had to pick a single focus area to submit our commitment under. I thought to myself, “well our commitment is focused on food security which could go under Public Health or Poverty Alleviation. We’re connecting students of higher education to families in urban communities to empower young children and give them healthy food to help increase their performance in schools which could fall under Education. We’re applying sustainable agriculture techniques which could go under Environment and Climate Change.” At that moment, I realized how important the work I am trying to do really is. This was the first time that this experience made me feel empowered.
After applying with our ideas and thoughts, we all awaited nervously to hear back from the Clinton Foundation. After acceptance and months of preparation, we were on our way to the other side of the country. Personally, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I was hoping for a lack of cheesy ice breakers and to hopefully get a small lesson out of each session I went to. What I actually got was far from what I expected. I had the honor to listen to some of the most empowering and genuine world-changers and meet some of the most recent, up and coming ones. I was able to be exposed to so many creative and innovative solutions to some problems, I didn’t even know existed. CGI-U was a place that not only lit up my heart, but also encouraged me that as a single person, I can make a huge difference and be impactful.
A few people really left their footprints on my heart. The first was Congressman John Lewis. This gentleman was a part of the Freedom Riders and pushed for positive change with Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks. He focused greatly during his panel about how by not doing anything you are causing negative results. This really made me realize how much of an impact I, alone, can cause. Just by not standing up and moving toward my goals and beliefs for positive change means that all of my aspirations are moving in the opposite direction. Another speaker, the founder of Khan Academy, Salman Khan also was very motivating. He proved to me that everything starts as a small seed. A successful company does not start as large and as successful as it is at the end. He began by just teaching to his family members and now he is helping individuals around the world by making education accessible. But what really touched me from him was not that everything starts small, but never should you ever waste one of those seeds. He told a story about how early into a morning after watching a movie he felt rather inspired. This inspiration made him want to go on a run. Although the time and the circumstances didn’t all fit, his roommate told him, “Don’t waste inspiration.” There are so many moments when I feel inspired by others words or actions, and then it dwindles away without action, but now whenever I feel inspired I remember, don’t waste it because no matter how small it seems to you or is now, it could be huge to someone else and making an everlasting change.
Overall, my experience at CGI-U at UC Berkeley was extremely eye-opening, empowering, and restoring. I was made aware of a variety of complex issues that need tending to. I felt the inspiration and the encouragement to go and make a difference within those issues. I also found myself taking in deep breaths knowing that so many people care about the wellbeing of others. I found the empowerment that just one person, like myself, can make a difference and must make a difference. I also realized that I am not alone and I have now built a network of 1,200 other people who are committed, through action, to leaving our world in a better place than we found it and enacting positive change.