Summit was the national GlobeMed conference at Northwestern University. There were over 300 delegates from 50 chapters around the country. It was three days packed full of incredibly informative and motivating discussions, panels, film screenings, and speakers from 8 am to 10 pm every day, and then bonding with the other delegates from around 10 pm to 3 am. It was exhausting, but I wouldn’t change my Summit experience for all the sleep in the world. I think that what I learned can be categorized into three categories: things I saw/heard/talked about that inspired me and motivated me to engage in new issues, learning about GlobeMed as an organization in context of every other chapter, and the instant connection I felt to everyone that I met.
After a super fun 5 hour delay, Tory and I got to the conference late, so we missed the first speaker, but we made it in time to see the film screening and panel afterwards. The film was How to Survive a Plague, which is a documentary on AIDS activism in New York during the 80’s and 90’s. The documentary consisted almost entirely of clips from the movement, showing protests, tv interviews, lock ins, and rallying meetings. It centered on several main characters, most of whom had AIDS, and though they believed it was too late for themselves, they had faith that their activism could save the lives of many others. It’s heartbreaking to see the main characters struggle with the disease, and some of them do die, but it was incredible to see them rise to the occasion and demand the attention of the world with even their last breath. The only former knowledge I had about HIV/AIDS during that time came from my teenage obsession with the musical RENT, and although I love that musical to pieces, it definitely doesn’t convey the stigma around AIDS. How to Survive a Plague showed how it was just as much (if not more) a social fight, rather than a biological one. One of the main characters stressed that “we’re dying from neglect,” and another one for a room of 3,000 to chant “300 thousand dead from AIDS, where is George?” Peter Staley, who did that, was one of the main characters in the documentary, a leader within Act Up and the founder of Treatment Action Group, was on the panel discussion afterwards. Although I’d read in the program that he was going to be speaking, hearing him talk about his experiences right after seeing the movie where he rallied thousands, stunned socially conservative democrats and republicans on national television, and talked about how he didn’t think he was going to survive, was so incredible and moving.
On Friday we had panels on youth-driven change, the role of universities in educating for global health, and working with purpose. The takeaway message I got was that it’s okay to take risks and that going of it will bring you somewhere if you give it your all. Tory and I presented our research, and between the two of us around 120 people (4 groups of 30) heard our research. People asked questions, they seemed interested, all was well. We had several organized small grow discussions, so that we could actually process and talk bout what we heard. The small group discussions focused on the idea of “our generation” and what our unique position was in terms of social change. My group thought that generations are defined after the fact, and although young people tend to be the drivers of change, it shouldn’t just be left to our generation. There is so much going on in the world that needs to change, and there is no good excuse for anyone, of any generation, not to utilize their unique capabilities and try to do some good. It was also interesting because they emphasized that medicine was a subfield of public health, not the other way around.
The plenary keynote was Zeenat Rahman, the secretary of state’s special adviser on youth issues. One thing she told us to do was to define our passion in a word we could hold on to and use it as a driving motivation. She suggested words like “love” or “solidarity.” I cheated a little big, because I had two words, but they don’t make sense alone. My words were “imagine better,” which is a shout out to my favorite JK Rowling quote. “We do not need magic to change the world, we carry all the power we need inside ourselves already: we have the power to imagine better.”
Saturday centered around Leymah Gbowee’s speech. Leymah won the 2011 nobel peace prize, and she is such a hero. I cannot remember the last time I felt so inspired, just being in the same room as someone who has done so much good for the world, and who holds so much power. Her speech was fabulous, and it was great to hear her perspective on the sort of change we can do. Some favorite quotes follow:
“Leaders are not fearless. Leaders do not let fear stop them.”
“Your calling, your vision will always seem crazy to the world.”
“You’re never too small to have an effect- if you think you’re small, try sleeping in a bed with a mosquito.”
“The world is waiting to hear from you.”
I very much appreciated seeing GlobeMed as a large organization. I feel like seeing it in context of all 50 chapters and how we’re all working on our different projects to achieve the same goal of social change. One of the nicest things about seeing GlobeMed in the larger context was that it was very validating. I have this problem where I feel like a lot of people don’t take me seriously, or they pass off my strong desire to change the world as a phase because I’ll eventually turn cynical and grow out of it. But, at Summit everyone took me seriously! The speakers addressed us without any sort of skepticism, as though they believed that we really could just go out and make the world better. There were also GlobeMed alums who talked to us and it was an interesting glimpse into what my life might be like 4 or 5 years down the line.
Meeting other GlobeMeders was also a huge highlight. I feel like I just instantly clicked with everyone I met, because we’re all passionate about the same things. At home and school my friends (who are, of course, wonderful and I love very much) come from similar backgrounds as me but we’re all passionate about different things. Summit was the opposite, there were so many people from different places and backgrounds, but we are all obsessed with the same things. It was just so great to be surrounded by such passionate, intelligent, fun, and all around lovely people. GlobeMed’s the best.