Stand Up and Act

If you could do anything in the world without fail, what would you do? Work towards a greener planet, secure world peace, go skydiving, travel to Mars? Ground this question in reality, though, and these dreams become just that—dreams. With challenging factors such as age, education and opportunity, these dreams seem like they will never be realized.

These factors certainly make the road to reaching these dreams treacherous and difficult, but they do not make it impossible. Before coming to Andover, I was drowning in my dreams to change the world. I wanted to do everything.

Yet, alongside all this passion building up inside me, frustration grew. As much as I wanted to do something, I was handicapped by my lack of actual action. I had heard the call to action many times but couldn’t find the right outlet to respond.

My inability to act ended when I came to Andover. During my freshman year, my History 100 teacher, Dr. Shaw, took a week out of the usual class curriculum to have us learn about the genocides in Rwanda and Darfur. Those four classes deeply impacted me. I knew about those genocides before, but I had never studied them so thoroughly. My newfound knowledge was the final nudge to finally spring into action.

This year I joined STAND, the nationwide student led anti-genocide coalition. It was through STAND that my passion to bring an end to genocide was finally realized in energy for action.

During the winter, a group of seven students, including myself, travelled to Washington, DC to lobby for conflict-free minerals from the Congo. I was shocked by the accessibility of the congressmen on Capitol Hill.

I learned so much from the experience. Most importantly, I realized that students could make a real and forceful impact, as cliché as it sounds. Several of the aides we talked to commented multiple times on how impressed they were by our young age and precociousness. We didn’t inspire a Senator to begin writing a new piece of legislation that day, but the impact was still there.

Sometimes what we wish could happen seems too lofty to ever be realized. Goals such as a genocide-free world are nearly impossible to achieve. However, the difficulty of the situation should never discourage people to stop trying.

There is a unique strength in being a student activist. Being a student may seem like a restriction, but it is actually liberating. Yes, there are obstacles to being under 18, and no, you will never be able to schedule an appointment with President Obama, but the student-led grassroots movements are bursting with spirited kids trying to make their mark on the world.

Students have proven in the past to be extremely influential—take UC Berkeley students, for example, who, in 1968, were at the forefront of the Civil Rights movement with their protests, demonstrations and marches.

I strongly believe anyone can make a change in the world if they have the opportunity and enough motivation to keep going. Start your life as a student-activist next month by joining STAND in a fast for Darfur. Or, sign an online petition for a cause you love.

Even having a conversation with a similarly passionate classmate is action. It’s time for all of us to quit just talking the talk and start walking—or sprinting—the walk. The world is ours to have. It is time to start shaping it for the better.

MJ Engel is a two-year Lower from Fox Point, WI.