Ross Smith

Leading up to our trip to San Diego for CGIU, I didn’t know what to expect.  Was this weekend merely going to consist of an auditorium full of undergrads listening to President Clinton ramble on in his Arkansas accent about his hopes and dreams?  No, this weekend celebrated the work and ambitions of the young and the young at heart.

I met fellow college students, from institutions large and small across the world.  Each group presented a unique commitment to action, from soccer balls that could power electrical appliances to after-school DJ-ing programs for urban youth.  Everyone I spoke to one-on-one was as dedicated to his/her project as those of us in Books & Beyond are dedicated to our efforts.  Being among these 1,100 peers was both energizing and inspiring.  Ultimately, we are all working toward the same goal:  making the world a better place for our generation and generations that follow.

The conference kicked off on Friday evening at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) with a networking dinner.  This was the first opportunity for face-to-face interactions with our fellow delegates.

Following dinner, all attendees gathered in UCSD’s athletic arena for rousing speeches by President Clinton and UCSD Chancellor Marye Anne Fox.  Immediately following the speeches came the Opening Plenary Session, a series of panel discussions centered on varying topics.  The first plenary, moderated by President Clinton, focused on innovation in science and technology, and the impact of these innovations upon society.  Panelists included Chad Hurley, co-founder of YouTube; Dr. Shirley Ann Jackson, President of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute; Greg Lucier, Chairman and CEO of Life Technologies; and Jessica O. Matthews, Co-Inventor of the sOccket, a revolutionary soccer ball that harnesses kinetic energy to power electrical appliances.

Saturday commenced with the Second Plenary Session, focused on development and social needs in the world’s urban areas.  Simran Sethi, Associate Professor of Journalism from the University of Kansas, moderated a panel which included Van Jones, a Distinguished Visiting Fellow from Princeton University; Shi Nan, Secretary General of the Urban Planning Society of China; Anu Sridharan, Co-founder of NextDrop; and José Reyes Ferriz, former mayor of Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.

After the panel discussion, I attended a skill session on fundraising.  While I gained a great deal of valuable advice from the presenters, I also found myself advising others who were just starting their projects this year.  Many were impressed with what Books & Beyond had accomplished thus far in regards to raising money.

The Third Plenary on issues of access and affordability in higher education occurred after the skill session.  President Clinton’s daughter Chelsea Clinton moderated this panel.  Participants included Eduardo M. Ochoa, Assistant Secretary for Postsecondary Education at the U.S. Department of Education; Marie Groark, Executive Director of the Get Schooled Foundation; Eduardo Padrón, President of Miami Dade College, and Ifreke B. Williams, medical student and member of the American Medical Student Association.

In the afternoon, many of the presenters held “office hours” where anyone could come to ask questions.  I attended Mayor Reyes Ferriz’s office hours.  He spoke in-depth about his experiences dealing with Mexican drug cartels in Ciudad Juarez.  His stories were shocking, yet I was most affected by the amount of adolescents who had fallen under the influence of the cartels.  Listening to Mr. Reyes Ferriz, I realized that all actions have far-reaching consequences that we do not even realize.  Much of the violence in Mexico (and growing drug violence in other Central American nations) has come about due to the U.S. War on Drugs.  Heightening social awareness was the lesson I took away from Mr. Reyes Ferriz.

I attended one final working session with my fellow Books & Beyond delegates, Caitlin and Ellie, regarding educational opportunities for adolescents around the globe.  As an education major, I found this session both enriching and informative.

At the Closing Plenary, entitled “A Conversation with President Clinton,” President Clinton moderated a discussion with Kennedy Odede, Executive Director of Shining Hope for Communities, and actor Sean Penn, Founder and CEO of the J/P Haitian Relief Organization.  The three men encouraged all attendees to stay dedicated to their commitments, reaffirming our potential to make dramatic change.  After the Closing Plenary, all attendees took a class photo with President Clinton, and a party was thrown for everyone.

The final component of the conference allowed attendees to give back to the community that had hosted them for the weekend.  On Sunday morning, nearly all the attendees volunteered at the San Diego Food Bank.  We bagged and prepared food for the 350,000 San Diego citizens that rely on the food bank.  I bagged cabbages alongside actress and philanthropist Drew Barrymore.  Drew is in the process of building a school in Kenya, and she was impressed with the work we are doing in Books & Beyond.  We wished each other the best of luck in our efforts.

Caitlin, Ellie, and I spent Sunday afternoon relaxing on the beaches of Coronado Island.  In the evening, we enjoyed a beautiful evening with our hosts Chris and Michelle Boyle.  Monday morning, we visited San Diego’s beautiful Balboa Park.  At 1:00 pm, we boarded our flight home to the great state of Indiana.

CGIU was an amazing experience, and I am grateful for all our supporters who helped make the trip a reality.  I was truly honored to represent Books & Beyond and Indiana University at this incredible gathering.

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