Paris defiantly carries on and continues to shine in the media spotlight with the recent signing of the COP 21 environmental agreement by 195 nations. What with the terrorist attacks, the refugee crisis and the dire threat of global warming, it is easy to see why the future looks so uncertain, especially to someone my age.
My generation is pointed to as the one that will inherit this world with its advantages and problems. It seems hopeless to some of us. However, others are more than ready to meet the difficult task, like Alice Kennedy. She is a 17-year-old Franco-Australian senior and the president of my high school’s Model United Nations (MUN) club, that serves to teach students about public speaking and current events while preparing to be “delegates” at mock United Nations conferences that take place all over the world.
I sat down with Alice at Balzac high school in Paris for a glimpse of how teenagers of our generation view our world today and tomorrow.
You are secretary general of the Balzac MUN club. What does that entail and what does the position mean to you?
I am in charge of organizing meetings for debate sessions at times that suit (mostly) everyone and coordinating travel expenses and documents for Model UN conferences. I am also in the tough position of representing my school’s MUN organization, so I am the one that both students and adults will go to if they need any information. It’s very instructive to be in contact with the school board and overseas MUN organizers, but it is also a big responsibility.
It can get overwhelming and tedious at times, but it is definitely worth it. My favorite part of the job is probably seeing new members progressing in their debating skills thanks to the club. It makes me feel like what I do really matters.
If you were the real secretary general to the UN, what would your first order of business be?
Probably give a cookie a day to every kid in the world. I’m only (half) joking.
I think that I would really press to reinforce and endorse more projects like the He for She initiative that aim to empower women and help them gain equal rights everywhere. I know it’s ambitious and it may seem like something that, in light of recent events, isn’t a priority but it is an issue that is very close to my heart as a girl who has had the privilege to be born in a society that has allowed me to be free with my choices. Every young woman should have the same chance as I do.
I would also try to tackle the difficult issues of security and the environment, but the growing complexity of these issues would make it quite a challenge.
The UN plays a major role in promoting women in politics. I’m glad to see that potential candidates for the next secretary general include women.
Do you think it is better to symbolically vote for a female candidate solely because of her sex, or a male candidate who could probably do a better job at making gender equality a priority?
Simply put, the best leader is someone who tries to understand everyone. With so many issues and inequalities, one person cannot be made to identify with every voter.
An ideal candidate represents everyone and cannot cater to only one section of a given population. You don’t have to be a woman to be a feminist. In fact, having a male leader stand up for women’s rights may have an even bigger impact.
With so much conflict in the world today, do you think the United Nations is doing a good job at brokering peace?
Yes and no. I have recently had to come to terms with the fact that the UN isn’t some kind of magical problem solver; it’s far more complex than that. In reality, resolutions are often just words on paper and what goes on behind the scenes actually weighs more than what you read on the official documents. It’s a bit disconcerting, although you have to believe that the system is still efficient considering we have avoided a third world war (although things are a bit shaky now). We’ll have to wait and see how the UN handles these trying times. There will always be conflict, on an international level, or even between your best friends. It’s always frustrating to deal with conflicting opinions, but that’s the price to pay for democracy; and the struggle is worth it if everyone can have a voice.
When teenagers think about the world they will live in 25 years from now, what do they worry about?
“Will I actually dress like my mum?” That is actually something that keeps me up at night. Mainly, I think that we are all aware that we are somewhat of a pivotal generation and it makes us both hopeful and uneasy. Things are going to be changing very soon, on a political, environmental and social scale, and it’s scary.
I think that the immediate issue people my age are worried about is conflict in the Middle East and the refugee crisis. When I think about the future I ask myself: Will there actually be a war? Will we keep making the same mistakes? What will my friends and I be doing?
It’s a good mix of wanting to care about our own futures and knowing that they they are all intrinsically tied to the future of humanity and of this planet.
With two older brothers who have already been secretary general of the MUN club, do you feel like you’re under pressure to follow in their footsteps? Your oldest brother is studying at the prestigious Sciences Po and your other sibling is at King’s College.
It’s true that growing up with two older brothers has influenced a lot of my decisions, but I think they are a very positive presence in my life. I have always been exposed to a masculine point of view. My “tween” years were made a bit tougher by the lack of girls my age around the house to give me advice about boys and makeup, but I’m grateful because they steered me away from maybe more stereotypical “girly” behaviors. Although I know I can always be myself.
They’re the reason I strive to achieve everything I have today, and I can always count on them for advice. I can know I’m not the best, in MUN or anywhere else, but I have developed the necessary confidence to know I can do what they have before and get wherever I want to be. I think that’s more important. I’m so proud of my brothers; they changed my whole world and are still my role models today.
Is there a woman you consider to be a role model? Who is she and why does she inspire you?
Well that’s tough, how can I choose when there are so many amazing women out there? I guess my personal role model would be my grandmother. She died when I was young, but she lives on in reputation as someone who always knew how to bring people together. Everyone seems to remember her as somewhat of a matriarch. She brought up seven kids while taking care of my family’s pub. I aspire to be remembered as she is: kind, caring, funny and tough.
One thing I admire about you is that you always stay true to yourself. Do you find that difficult?
Not really. As I said before, I am confident about the things I believe in. People either accept me for who I am or they don’t. As long as you’re happy with who you are, you’ll be fine.
Do you have any advice to give to girls like yourself who might be afraid to stand out?
To me, it has been about listening to what people say, knowing to trust yourself and what you think is right. If people don’t accept you because you refuse to do stupid things then they’re not worth being around.
Let others do what they want to do. Don’t try to control their lives; but never feel like you need to act a certain way just to fit in.
This doesn’t mean you should shelter yourself from everything. On the contrary, it’s important to experience as much as you can. Just don’t waste your time on the mind numbing experiences (aka: don’t spend your Friday nights getting drunk and passing out). Travel, learn, get out of your comfort zone and build up your soul!
What are your plans for next year?
I am planning on entering a program for musical theater and dance before studying international relations at King’s college or UCL. I have big dreams and I always want to focus on all of them at once, but balancing dance and politics will definitely be a challenge. I guess we’ll have to see where it takes me.