This past weekend I worked as part of the Davis Model United Nations to hold a conference for some rather high-achieving high school students. Since I have little interest in debate and even less interest in politics, I helped at the event as a favor to a friend, and perhaps to my resume as well.
However, the conference did provide me with some interesting insights on life, Libya and Chuck Norris’ ability to resolve international crises.
For those of you who have no idea what the Model United Nations, or MUN is, just assume that in general its members are very driven individuals fond of debating, political issues and turning extremely long names into even more complicated acronyms.
Two things stood out to me at the conference. The first was the unavoidable presence of pre-pubescent teenagers dressed like tiny CEOs. Their enthusiasm was completely infectious. If you stood near them for too long you would start to think that you too could solve world hunger, get into Harvard Law or maybe even get a date with that cute boy in the 10th grade.
These kids looked at the keynote speaker, who had worked in the real United Nations doing incredible and inspiring but very vague things, and saw what they were sure they would achieve.
But those were high school kids. The college students who staffed the event held a similar drive and vigor, but they also had a seed of doubt that was missing from the younger generation.
These senior “MUN-ers” are some of the most informed, intelligent, well-traveled and decorated people you’ll ever meet. They keep up with current events, love to lead whenever possible and know how to talk your ear off while still keeping you interested.
That’s why it was so surprising when one of these talented and vivacious MUN members, who had already graduated from college, said that out in the cold, hard job market they didn’t care about his extensive MUN leadership experience.
Even though he mentioned the harsh realities of the “real world” in passing, what he said stuck with me because it spoke to a greater fear that I, and many in my generation, share.
Don’t believe me? Then just look at the Occupy Davis tent city that has sprung up in Central Park to protest the crap economy, crap health care system and crap outlook on the American Dream.
The world outside of our cozy school environment seems even more threatening of late, because times have gotten so bad that even our hard work, unique backgrounds and hopeful drive just aren’t enough anymore. Everyone else scouring the market for a job has equally good motivation and experience.
And if the real word refuses to accept what has defined our lives for years, then what do our lives become? More importantly, where do we go from there?
To answer those questions, I return to those chipper high schoolers who spent the weekend pretending to be the UK, Djibouti and the other member countries of the United Nations.
They all fought like politicians, trying to get their voices heard, their stances acknowledged and their resolutions passed. They had to deal with the different social and political crises we threw at them to intentionally screw up all their hard work.
But the high schoolers kept trying, like the delegate representing Brazil who attempted to quell a terrorist uprising in Libya by enlisting Chuck Norris for a covert operation. Unfortunately, Norris was killed by Bruce Lee before he could complete his mission, but Brazil’s noble attempt to solve this new problem showed both resolve and dedication.
That’s what politics is, attempting to solve unsolvable problems and negotiate with opponents who will never relent or support you. Both metaphorically and literally it’s the same struggle we’ll have to wage against the real world once we graduate. No one is going to hand us opportunities or solutions to magically make the world a better place, so we have to do it ourselves.
Life in these troubled times is undoubtedly going to throw us one crisis after another, but it’s our job to soldier on and not rely on Chuck Norris to solve all our problems. Or not, you choose.
KATE ZARRELLA wants to hear how you plan to save the world at firstname.lastname@example.org.