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Diplomacy in Action

2011 UNESCO Youth Forum Finalist -- Andrew Hanna

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Bureau of International Organization Affairs
Washington, DC
June 27, 2011



Andrew Hanna

"What is the greatest global challenge facing youth, and how can American youth help to address it?"

No Time to Wait

Frustratingly often, we as youth are told that the major problems of today’s world are too much for us to handle. The general consensus is that we should wait to make an impact; they say wait until you get older, wait until you get that position of power… just make sure to stay put and wait.

Indeed, the truth is that the complex issues facing today’s youth do require the influence of governmental and business leaders; everyday youth are not prepared to impact these fields just yet. Still, we must consider the heart of the issues we wish to overcome; the youth of our generation are set to inherit leadership of the world, but there will be no future of cooperation or overall happiness unless these youth are personally guided as they shape their morals and values. This, to me, is the overarching challenge facing the world’s youth.

Why such a focus on personal guidance? Youth, or adolescents, are going through what developmental psychologists agree is the most formative and confusing stage of life.  As diverse as they are, youth all over the globe have one thing in common: they are at a time in their lives at which they are most easily influenced. As they explore their morals, values, and identities, they choose whether they will look beyond themselves and help make the world a better place, or whether they will take a life route that leads to their own unhappiness and a worse-off world.

The beautiful part about this challenge, though, is that no group is more capable of influencing today’s generation of youth than we are. As youth struggle to navigate the choppy waters of adolescence, research concludes that they consistently turn from the sounds of their parents’ voices and look to their peers as their main influencers. Tangibly, this means youth in America must engage with their communities and get involved with or start mentoring programs. On a less structured level, it means positively influencing their peers on a daily basis. It means being a big brother or big sister to youth who may not have a stable guiding presence in their lives. It means giving them confidence to look past the many destructive peer pressures to abuse alcohol, to do drugs, to drop out of school, and to do many other things that have negative affects on both themselves and the entire global community.

Ultimately, then, every one of us currently holds the key to the future of our generation, and thus the future of our world. We as youth certainly must grow in experience and knowledge to accomplish some things. In the meantime, though, every single youth has the opportunity and the responsibility to be a mentor to those youth around them. Regardless of what we are told, there is no time to continue to simply wait; we must take our own generation by storm and make it what it has the potential to be… one person at a time.

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