Quaker Youth Leadership Conference lights a flame

Kieran, Meghan, Ananya, Cam, Gabbie R-G, Gabbie S, and Reed at Westtown School for the Quaker Youth Leadership Conference.

Kieran, Meghan, Ananya, Cam, Gabbie R-G, Gabbie S, and Reed at Westtown School for the Quaker Youth Leadership Conference.

“We often become complacent in our own communities, but in a new place with new people, I woke up to the idea that we can make a difference.” – Cam C.

For the tenth consecutive year, a delegation of Moses Brown upper school students took part in the Quaker Youth Leadership Conference. Reed B ’15, Meghan B. ’15, Cam C. ’15, Ananya H. ’15, Kieran H. ’16, Gabby R.-G. ’15 and Gabbie S.15 traveled to Philadelphia with teachers Galen McNemar Hamann and Meg Fifer to engage with peers from Friends schools all over the world. “I was delighted to see that so many kids could come together and be comfortable,” Reed said, “merely on the premise that we attend Quaker schools.”

With integrity as its overall theme, the three-day conference included the plenary session “Letting our lives speak: learning how to express our witness in the world”; a panel/case study of student activism and leadership; meetings for worship; and workshops led by students and teachers on themes related to Friends decision-making, disciplinary committees, and integrity in practice.

MB’s delegation created and led a workshop on social media: Integrity in 140 characters #RESPECT. The workshop encouraged conversation about social media dilemmas in schools, presenting three scenarios in which social media has been detrimental to an individual or school community:

  • Teammates argue on Facebook over losing a game. As friends chime in, the situation escalates, with consequences including suspensions. “If you were one of their friends, how could you help diffuse the situation? How would you have kept your integrity, and helped them keep theirs?”
  • A boy celebrates his first-choice college acceptance on Facebook. “Feedback from 20 of his 726 Facebook friends appears positive but, as with any story, not all of the details lie directly at the surface… How should social media be used in relation to the college selection process?”
  • An anonymous Twitter account “@RIconfessions” surfaces with posts about schools and their students. Confessions range from harmless to cruel, graphic and rude. In school, some find the account entertaining but many are uncomfortable with it. “How do you respond? Follow? Block? Participate? Which choice maintains your integrity? How can you take steps in your school to prevent people from being hurt by social media?”

The discussion explored: how can we stand behind the words or images we post? We should feel confident putting our names next to our posts. Know your audience – who might see this? Reading a message aloud before posting can serve as a simple reminder: anything we’re uncomfortable saying or hearing doesn’t belong online.

Kieran: “I’ll bring back the ideas from the workshop, so we can revamp and continue our discussion on integrity and social media at MB.”

Gabbie: “It was so interesting to hear different students’ exposure to social media and their solutions to cyber bullying.”

Ananya: ”Thanks to the workshop, I could both teach and learn at QYLC, which was rewarding.“

Cam: “Leading a workshop was a great opportunity to see what a difference we can make. It was also great to see just how similar our school’s issues are to some others.”

At Philadelphia's Race Street meetinghouse

At Philadelphia’s Race Street meetinghouse

The conference imparted an untraditional sense of leadership:

Kieran: “A leader can solve problems with what they’re given, and can follow their own path instead of just going with a trend, or what’s ‘cool.’”

Meghan: “A leader doesn’t have to be the loudest person in the room, but someone who leads by example, who can bring people together in order to make change.”

The students learned some new things about Quakerism, too:

Ananya: “The idea of a Meeting for Business is a new aspect of Quakerism for me.”  Gabby: “I learned how the peace testimony relates to social justice, and how to implement it.”

Reed: “In the simplest terms, I discovered my roots in Quakerism. I strongly believe in ‘keeping it real,’ living simply, and seeing people for who they are at heart. It’s for this reason that I care so much about how my generation carries itself and the integrity that people can uphold in their every encounter with others. After the conference, I’m eager to more whole-heartedly embrace Quakerism in my interactions with family, friends and acquaintances.”

Kieran: “I learned that Quakers aren’t always Quakers right away, but some grow into the faith and continue to grow with it.”

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