May 20, 2024
By Himaja Balusa, Global Education Manager 

Global Classrooms DC, the flagship education program of the United Nations Association of the National Capital Area (UNA-NCA), hosted its 20th annual Spring Model United Nations on Monday, April 29th, 2024, at the U.S. Department of State. The conference featured simulations of eight different multilateral UN agencies, including the International Labor Organization (ILO), International Organization for Migration (IOM), and Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). The event engaged over 500 middle and high school students from schools across the DC-Maryland-Virginia (DMV) area, as well as groups from North Carolina and New York.

The opening ceremony was initiated by UNA-NCA President Paula Boland, who celebrated the conference’s 20th anniversary. She spoke about the enduring importance of the UN Charter principles and expressed hope that the students would continue to champion equality, human rights, and peace. Ms. Boland emphasized the significance of youth engagement in today’s changing world, highlighting the UN Secretary-General’s call for full youth participation in designing our shared future. She encouraged the students to seize the opportunity to learn, network, and enjoy the conference.

The next speaker was Alicia Van Der Veen, the newly appointed Director of the Office of Public Affairs and Outreach for the Bureau of International Organization Affairs (IO). Ms. Van Der Veen emphasized the importance of multilateral diplomacy, describing it as an art that combines dialogue, advocacy, compromise, and a shared purpose. Drawing from her personal experience as a Model UN alumna, she encouraged students to consider careers in the State Department or International Affairs. However, she also emphasized that regardless of the career path they choose to embark on, the skills they develop in Model UN—such as critical thinking, problem-solving, and empathy—are essential for becoming global citizens and leaders.

Ms. Van Der Veen then introduced GCDC’s student Secretary-General, Imaani Haque, a rising 9th grader from Cooper Middle School and a dedicated Model UN participant. Ms. Haque began her speech with a poignant quote by Arab poet Marwan Makhoul: “To write poetry that is not political, I have to listen to the birds. And to listen to the birds, the warplanes must be silent.” She addressed multiple humanitarian crises around the world and evoked questions that young people ask themselves amidst such crises, such as “what is my why?” Ms. Haque shared how her MUN experiences have helped her learn about important yet uncomfortable topics and discover her strengths and passions. She encouraged students to help each other, especially newcomers, to foster a supportive environment. Ms. Haque concluded by motivating her fellow delegates to set realistic goals, such as giving one more speech than in their last conference and allowing more people to speak during unmoderated caucuses. She proceeds to introduce the keynote speaker of the day: Undersecretary for Public Diplomacy and Labour Affairs, Elizabeth M. Allen.

Engagement with Keynote Speaker:

She proceeds to introduce the keynote speaker of the day: Undersecretary for Public Diplomacy and Labour Affairs, Elizabeth M. Allen. Undersecretary Allen commenced her speech by outlining that her dream growing up was to be a history teacher. She said that while she does not currently work in a traditional classroom, she spoke about her involvement in educational mission and the opportunity to represent her country “on global stages like the United Nations General Assembly in New York.” Undersecretary Allen spoke about how her colleagues “shape how our world learns from the past to create a better future. Much like those, (she) learned about in (her) history books.” She also took a moment to thank all the teachers with a big round of applause for all their hard work and dedication.

She spoke about the United States’ investment in the United Nations, including how documents like the UN Charter and Universal Declaration of Human Rights are “living and breathing documents” which her State Department colleagues use in their diplomacy. Expanding on the US’ critical investments in solving global challenges, she outlined that the “United States is the single largest humanitarian donor in the world,” and also makes “significant contributions to peacekeeping and peacebuilding organizations.” Undersecretary Allen concluded by providing advice on thoughtful debate and negotiation. She highlighted that “communication is a two-way street” and that “the best diplomats are not often those who speak the fastest or the loudest, but ...those who can digest what’s happening around them and understand what’s being conveyed.”

The opening plenary concluded with a Q&A session with the keynote speaker. Students asked a diverse range of questions, prompting meaningful discussions. For example, a student from Bethesda Chevy-Chase High School asked about the most ethically challenging part of her career. Undersecretary Allen discussed the crisis in the Middle East and the ethical dilemmas it presents. She highlighted the importance of holding space for multiple truths and narratives within our country. Other questions covered career highlights and steps to becoming a diplomat.

Student Testimonials:

Following the opening plenary, student delegates were dismissed to their respective committee rooms, while guests attended the open house honoring our Spring MUN sponsors. Watch testimonials from students as they gathered for negotiations throughout the day here.

While delegates were engrossed in debate and negotiation, GCDC hosted a session specifically tailored to educators. It provided an opportunity to gather feedback, show appreciation for educators, and allow them to discuss their collaboration with Global Classrooms DC. Amy Trenkle from Alice Deal Middle School, Robert Geremia from Jackson-Reed High School, and Audre Park from Cabin John Middle School and Bells Mill Elementary School spoke about their longstanding partnerships with GCDC. Ms. Park highlighted the program’s collaboration with international organizations such as the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and International Labour Organization (ILO) to organize programming. Mr. Geremia reminisced about being present during GCDC’s inaugural conference in 2004. This session also facilitated bonding and networking among educators.

IMG_7567.JPGEducator's Session

Closing Remarks:

The keynote speaker for the closing plenary was Ose Ehianeta Arheghan, the current UNA-USA Youth Observer to the United Nations. Ose commenced their virtual engagement by talking about their role as the UNA-USA Youth Observer, which is to “amplify youth voices in the global policy dialogue around international issues on a practical level.” They spoke about their experience traveling around the United States to talk to young people about the United Nations. Mx. Arheghan is a Model UN alumna themselves and highlighted their participation in the program as an 8th grader. While they wanted to be an engineer at the same time, Mx. Arheghan highlighted how their participation in Model UN changed the trajectory of their life; they developed a strong passion for international affairs and decided to pursue a career in the field. They concluded the speech by outlining how skills like research, public speaking, and diplomacy that are fostered through Model UN will open doors to “countless opportunities,” whether students decide to pursue a career path in diplomacy or a different path.

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