I tuned into the live streaming the other day to watch the graduation ceremony at United World College, Costa Rica Unlike the traditional orderly processions, mortar boards with tassels, and ritual anthems, this event spoke volumes of an educational movement started in 1962.
When was the last time you watched a graduation ceremony where the first people who are seated and applauded are the hourly workers who make life on campus possible: from cafeteria to maintenance, from housekeeping to gardening?
When was the last time you listened to awards given to graduates in the areas of innovation, community- building, leadership and healthy lifestyles?
When did you hear of students selecting which teacher to give them a final address? In this case, an English teacher who urged them not to be saplings which stand tall and take the nutrients from the soil but rather become bromeliads—plants that live on air and become home for all manner or living things.
And for my final year in high school, I never watched 73, 18 year-olds gather together, with 40 of them waving the flags of their respective countries. (The word “college” is the European usage where students 16 years and older are in a pre-university program. At UWC, these 2 years combine the rigorous International Baccalaureate (IB) degree with an experiential education model which gives them a 24/7 whole-life experience that is transformative.)
However, these junior and senior high school students were not chosen for their academic brilliance but rather on merit and potential. In fact, many of the students at UWC Costa Rica are on scholarship, coming from impoverished situations and war-torn regions. The school is deliberately diverse in socio-economic background, culture, race, religion and nationality.
The reason is simple: In 1962 at the height of the Cold War, German educator Kurt Hahn took his observations from the post-war NATO Defense College where he observed former enemies collaborating and discussing. His vision was to have young people create a spirit of understanding by living and working together to overcome prejudice and antagonism. The philosophy of the schools is in accordance with a thought from Nobel Peace Prize laureate Lester B. Pearson: “How can there be peace without people understanding each other; and how can this be if they don’t know each other?”
I watched the live streaming video of the UWC Spirit, listening to students speak of their transformative two years. From these teens, I realized that there is indeed HOPE for a world so fractured by terrorism, wars, violence, and rigid beliefs. There’s hope for positive social action to build a more equitable world that not only protects its people but also its planet. And it will come from youth such as these.
No wonder my sister, Susan Mullins, has been volunteering for years and now is Board Chair at UWC Costa Rica. While she says it’s the hardest she has ever worked for no money, she and the rest of her volunteer board are committed to use their time, talent and treasure to make education a force to unite people, nations, and cultures for a sustainable, peaceful future.
Susan loves the students and comes home to California with a sense of joy and optimism. She revels in the impressive scholarships these teens get to schools that range from Oxford to Harvard, from Vassar to London School of Economics. And her conversations with UWC Costa Rica alumnae leave her overwhelmed with the incredible work many are doing in their countries and chosen professions.
Thankfully, Costa Rica is not the only college. Some 50,000 alumnae cover the globe from 15 campuses located in USA, the United Kingdom, Singapore, Canada, Netherlands, Germany, Armenia, India, Bosnia, Herzegovina, Swaziland, Norway, Hong Kong and China.
UWC is indeed a movement—one deeply needed today. I am reminded of the words for Simon Sinek: “Fight against something and we focus on the thing we hate. Fight for something and we focus on the thing we love.”
Come join me at UWC Costa Rica and fight for the world we love.