The Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) University, a program founded 10 years ago by President Bill Clinton, brings together students, university faculty & staff, topics experts, and celebrities to discuss and develop innovative solutions to pressing global challenges. This year, the CGU University had its Opening Plenary Session on Friday, March 6, at University of Miami. The theme was Fast Forward: Accelerating Opportunity for All. Specifically, it focused on the five areas, including education, environment and climate change, peace and human rights, poverty alleviation and public health.
The student group for this year’s CGI U represented 200 universities and every state in the United States. FIU student Francesca Bacarossi attended the opening plenary session and shared what she learned from the experience.
By Francesca Bacarossi
The Plenary Session began with remarks about the initiative from Chelsea Clinton, vice chair of the Clinton Foundation, who talked about her father and his purpose for starting the program – “helping people turn their ideas for solution into real action plans.” This year, the CGI University Network, The Resolution Project, and the CGI U 2015 Commitments Challenge raised $925,000 to help students do just that.
President Bill Clinton served as the moderator for the panel discussion, which was made up of four individuals:
- America Ferrera: actress, producer and activist
- Tawakkol Karman: Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, founder of Women Journalists Without Chains
- Paul Lorem: student, Yale University
- Vivek Murthy: United States Surgeon General, United States Department of Health and Human Services
I was grateful for the chance I had taken to attend the event despite the many assignments I would have to pull an all-nighter to complete. Here are some of the highlights and takeaways from the evening:
1. Understand active citizenship: Sometimes, the catalyst for change can be a single person speaking out.
“When you see a problem around you, when you see something that’s broken in your community, step up and say something, take action to fix it,” said Vivek Murthy, United States Surgeon General, United States Department of Health and Human Services.
Murthy’s message underscored that it doesn’t matter if you think of yourself only as a student, a mother, a teacher, a man or woman. The truth is that it is indeed your responsibility, as an active citizen, to be the change.
Murthy, who founded Doctors for America, said that some people fail to realize that they can tackle the issues themselves, rather than waiting for someone else to do it for them.
2. All you need is passion and perseverance: Murthy explained founding Doctors for America didn’t occur overnight. In fact, he recounted how he had failed more than once. He said failures should not stop you from trying. Failure, in fact, can make you stronger because it gives you the experiences you need to have a stronger success.
“There is no qualifier that you have to be a certain age, that you have to have a certain degree, that you have to have a certain degree of training or experience,” said Murthy. “The two most important ingredients that you need to succeed, the two most important things you need to overcome any barrier that’s in front of you, are passion and perseverance.” As they say, nothing worthwhile ever comes easy.
3. Create opportunities: Tawakkol Karman is a Yemeni journalist and human rights activist who has been fighting for press freedom for more than a decade. When talking about the struggles she faced in a country consumed by conflicts and chaos, she spoke confidently about defeating and overcoming the barriers that may be imposed on you.
“How can I be the solution while everything around me is denying me to do something as a woman and also citizen?,” she asked. “I decided to establish an organization called Women Journalists Without Chains. We broke all the chains around us.”
Since its founding, Karman had led thousands to protest without violence in Yemen. In one instance, she was even imprisoned for 36 hours. But that didn’t deter her from her path to be the solution and create opportunities that would otherwise be denied to her and other female journalists.
In 2011, Karman became the first Arab woman to become a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate. It’s your responsibility, she said, to also empower others with the knowledge and support they need to join you in your effort and for them to create their own.
4. Ask questions: We are all inquisitive by nature. Yet, it’s strange that when faced with certain situations, we would rather remain ignorant and turn our heads away.
America Ferrera, actress and activist, encouraged us to ask the questions that may be the key to solving the issues in the world today.
“Engage those that don’t have the opportunities you have, meet them where they’re at,” she said. “Understand why they didn’t make it to university, why they couldn’t keep a job, why they got pregnant at 15. Ask the questions. Learn about the real obstacles that stop people from getting at where you’re sitting right now.”
Not everyone is born under the same circumstances, and some are born in restrictive societies. We have to step into their shoes and also look at this from their perspectives. Only then can we know what we can do to help and take action to make things better.
5. Take the chance and get involved: Looking back on my last three years working with FIU alternative Breaks (aB), it’s always been about making a difference in the world by taking action and spending a break working on a community service project.
This year, as finance coordinator for fundraising, I enabled others to be that change. I provided them with different fundraising opportunities and felt satisfied with my contribution. But as the Clinton Global Initiative has proved, it doesn’t stop there. I’m not referring solely to involvement with organizations on campus, but involvement with every opportunity – for both personal and academic growth – that presents itself to you. I can guarantee you that on every instance, that small idea you had, and taking that first, small step, can lead to greater and worthwhile things.