Matt Nink, executive director of Global Youth Leadership Institute (GYLI), opened his talk at morning assembly on October 8 by asking students to spin their index fingers clockwise above their heads. “Now, move your finger below your nose. What happens?” When members of the audience realized that the rotation of their fingers had changed to a counterclockwise direction, Nink explained that their perspectives had changed, and their brains had responded by signaling their fingers to change directions.
His point: GYLI programs have a similar effect. “All the programs that we run exist to shift perspectives.” GYLI seeks to encourage students to open up about the way they see themselves, others and the earth through programs that:
- provide fun with a purpose,
- push students to the edge, taking them beyond their comfort zones to places they would not normally go and
- promote environmental sustainability.
As background, Nink told the assembly that GYLI was a response to 9/11. In 2002 a group of teachers gathered in Chicago to brainstorm about how they could respond in a positive way to the conflict. Out of their discussion came the idea to build relationships over a space of time among students from around the country and the world. GYLI piloted a summer experience that included presentations about the world’s religions, diverse cultural traditions and the importance of dialogue, coupled with the experience of sailing a tall ship.
Leaders expanded the program in 2003, deciding to make it a three-year journey of summer experiences. Burroughs became involved that summer and since then has sent groups to participate in the program every year. The five- to ten-day programs focus on leadership skills, religious pluralism, multicultural identity and environmental sustainability.
- Year 1: Sailing in the Wake of Our Ancestors (Connecticut and Wisconsin)
- Year 2: Developing a Personal Leadership Vision (Northern New Mexico)
- Year 3: Experiencing Models of Global Leadership and Pluralism (Costa Rica and India)
Ultimately, GYLI’s mission is to build leaders. Nink emphasized that youth are the leaders of today, not just tomorrow. “Our society does not bring youth to the table when leadership happens,” he said. He encouraged students to find leadership going on and observe it. “Watch leaders lead.”
When a seventh grader asked how he could get involved in the program, Nink suggested that he visit theGYLI website and talk to Brian Connor, Burroughs’ coordinator of the program.
Accompanying Nink on his visit to Burroughs were Apollos Munyampundu, an investigator at the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (UNICTR), and Marines Fonseca, an economist from Costa Rica, who is director of GYLI international programs. The three of them remained on campus to talk to smaller groups of students after assembly.