The following article was published in the Lethbridge Herald on October 19, 2016.
Last week I attended the Education Research Development and Innovation (ERDI) Conference in Banff. ERDI, on a semi-annual basis, brings together 50 Canadian superintendents to discuss educational trends with corporate partners from across North America. As part of the conference, a plenary session is held with a well-known keynote followed by a panel discussion. This year we were treated to hearing from two keynote presenters. The first was Janet Kennedy, the president of Microsoft Canada, who provided some excellent commentary on leveraging technology to enhance the educational experience of our students. However, it was the second keynote that I want to highlight in this week’s column. Her name was Hannah Alper and, if you look up her website (callmehannah.ca), you will see descriptions like “Kindraiser,” “Activist,” “Eco-Warrior,” “Motivational Speaker,” and “Ambassador” for Free the Children. You will also note that she is just 13 years old!
Hannah’s message focused on the equation: Issue + Gift = Change. She explained that in our world today there are an abundance of issues to be tackled. Often we look at the enormity of these issues and then back off. Her contention is that there are many smaller issues that anyone of us can and should address. I like to connect her viewpoint with a quote from St. Teresa of Calcutta, “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” Small or large, we all have a duty to address issues that diminish, disenfranchise or prejudice one another. How we address those issues comes from our gifts and strengths. She reminded us very clearly that, no matter our age, we all have gifts to offer to overcome issues. It is in the combining of the issue and the gift that change, positive change, happens. What a powerful message from a young 13 year old.
There is no doubt that Hannah Alper is an amazing young leader with a tremendous understanding of social justice. But there are many other Hannahs (albeit not as famous) that live in our schools today. This generation, maybe because of technology, has a better awareness of the world’s social injustices and are far more apt to stand up. I was reminded of this with Catholic Central High School’s Interact Club, who will be receiving an Inspiring Philanthropy Award later this month for their social justice work last year.
Often we want to believe that our students are too young to be able to make a difference. But the truth is that when they see an issue and use their gifts, change does occur. We, as adults, need to guide and support these initiatives – not act as a barrier to their greatness.