Rocky Mountain High School
What did you do for your Gold Award project?
My project was split into two major parts. The first was a series of presentations that taught the audience what genocide is, where it still happens, how it happens, and how to stop it. I ultimately reached 170 adults and 200 middle school students. Each audience member also made a pledge following the presentation of what they would do to fight genocide and defend human rights. The second part of my project was a video about Matthew Shepard used to illustrate how basic intolerance can lead to devastating consequences. This video was shown and discussed in every homeroom at my high school, reaching about 2100 students. Here is a link to the video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GOTRaRPH_ZM.
Why did you pursue this Gold Award project?
Ever since I was in 8th grade I’ve been passionate about human rights and ending violations of human rights. It started when one of my good friends visited Auschwitz, a concentration camp from the Holocaust. When I saw her pictures, I was horrified, but also inspired to write poetry about the Holocaust and learn more about it. I read books, watched movies, visited websites, and later I started learning about other genocides. Also in 8th grade, I watched a movie in my English class called Paper Clips about a school group in Tennessee who learned about the Holocaust for the first time. After learning, they were so horrified and inspired they decided to collect 11 million paper clips to represent every life lost in the Holocaust. During World War II the paper clip was worn by Norwegians to show they were anti-Nazi, but after this school group did their project, the paper clip came to represent more than that; it represented remembrance but also commitment to defend human rights and prevent future genocides. Nearly every day since then, I have worn a paper clip. When deciding to pursue this award, I knew my topic was going to revolve around genocide, but it gradually grew bigger and bigger and encompassed basic human rights everywhere, which was a natural transition to me, because all genocides find their roots in basic intolerance.
How did your Gold Award project make a difference?
The difference I made was evident in every audience member. I collected pledges with what my audience members would do as a result of my project. While some gave little commitment, I was pleased with the way they began a small passion for the topic as I had. One middle school student said, “I will do my best to stand up to bullies for myself and others to start on a small scale. I will also write a letter to someone in power and/or write an article on the link between bullying and genocide.” From an adult: “I will give bullying flyers to the teachers and family members with kids [at my rotary club] and be more aware of dehumanizing comments and ‘jokes.’” The immediate impact of this project is bringing together the community about a global but also very local issue. Going into Webber Middle School for presentations, Sonja Modesti mentioned that including bullying and basic intolerance in my presentation was very topical for the school at the time because several students had actually been suspended for bullying. In the Middle School setting it made students realize that their negative actions can have much bigger consequences beyond just schoolyard bullying, and based on the discussion and feedback I got, the classes really seemed to build off each other’s ideas on how to stop this issue as a class. For my high school, the immediate impact was similar to the Middle School. The video sparked discussion about intolerance, but also led to more wide scale discussions about hate crimes and even genocide. While I mostly focused on rotary clubs in the community, the immediate impact is picking at the brains of adults who may have not been aware of these issues at all. In the near future, I hope the impact of this project will be further education regarding these topics. Immediately, only the people I spoke to were affected, but everyone I spoke to made a pledge, whether it was to stop bullying when they see it happen or start writing letters to legislatures. If the people who listened to my presentation stay true to their pledges, the near future will be working towards a community that does not accept intolerance as a basic social norm. Many adults pledged to inform the children in their lives, which will spread more tolerance throughout the community’s schools. If the video and discussion is used for many years to come, at Rocky Mountain High School, we will have a community focused on defending one another against intolerance and dehumanization. The long term impact of my project is that, rather than having a community working towards tolerance, we have a community focused on accepting everyone in it for who he or she is. This is the ultimate goal of the project, and while it takes much more than just my project to get there, my project gave the opportunity for people to open their eyes and start working towards a more accepting community. If our community members truly work together to fight issues of intolerance, I hope it will inspire other communities as well or maybe even the government to make more of an effort to create a nation with “liberty and justice for all.”
What skills did you gain through earning your Gold Award?
Through my project, I ultimately grew as a leader. I became more convicted in my abilities to be inspiring, contributing to a stronger sense of self. I think this is the ultimate quality a leader must have, because one person cannot do everything, so leaders must be inspirational; they must be able to inspire others to believe in their mission and help them towards their goals. Throughout this project, I acquired much more conviction in my ability to speak but also my beliefs in human rights. At the start of the project, I wasn’t sure how much I wanted to stick my neck out, but now I realize that to be a convincing speaker, you need to be offensive. You need to state your beliefs on the issue without worrying about who is going to disagree with you. Another example of my growth as a leader is my ability to bring people together, which is certainly a practical life skill. I collaborated a lot throughout this project, and I couldn’t have done it without all the help I received. I was able to convince people in the importance of my project, and as I result I got 25+ high school students to say a line in a potentially controversial video that would be shown to the whole school. One student even memorized a 6 minute monologue to help me. I got in touch with actors, one who had performed on Broadway (Jonathan Farwell) to help me for free. This ability to reach out to others helped me grow as a leader, because like I said, one person can’t do it all. I grew as a person in my ability to approach huge challenges. Tackling genocide is no easy task; even tackling basic intolerance is overwhelming. I know some people challenged me in saying things along the lines of, “But violence is a part of human nature” or “Bullying will always be an issue.” I countered these people by saying that excusing human rights abuses as “part of human nature” is simply giving up. Regardless of whether this issue is a tendency of human nature doesn’t affect how we respond to it; we still need to fight it. In fact, I’d say we need to fight violence and bullying even more if it is a result of human nature. This project definitely helped me realize that anything you think is possible can be tackled with small steps. This realization will help me seek more challenges in the future. In terms of positive values, I think I developed these to an even greater amount. One example of this is the decision to stick my neck out and defend the rights for LGBT people even if it would result in some audience members shutting out what I had to say. I learned that you have to stay true to your values and you can’t please everyone, but if you are always genuine, you’ll always believe in what you’re doing. Believing in human rights and fighting dehumanization was something that was with me even before the project, but I think taking on this project helped me believe more in possibility to change things that have seemingly always been a part of human culture and society. I learned not to brush problems away that are hard to fix, but do everything I can to try to fix them. I developed critical thinking in the way I approached the issue of genocide and intolerance. Before beginning the project, I read a lot of books about genocide, intolerance, and related issues. This helped develop my critical thinking on the subject by opening my eyes to what other people were already saying and suggesting. I synthesized this information to make a compelling argument for what the common person could do. My critical thinking was also developed in designing the presentation for Middle School students. Obviously this is a very heavy topic, and the students I was presenting to were just learning what genocide is. I think by combining activities that spark the empathy of the students and activities that cause the students to believe in their power to make change happen, I developed a powerful curriculum.
What will you most remember about your Gold Award project?
After my first presentation for adults that weren’t Girl Scouts, a woman came up to me and said something along the lines of, “You know, I’m a lesbian and I know Judy Shepard, and what you’re doing just gives me so much hope.” At that point in the presentation, I’d been slightly off-put by a man who had asked “How many people need to be killed for it to be a genocide?” and him responding in a rather negative way to my presentation. That woman’s comment stuck with me for the duration of the project, and will probably stick with me for the rest of my life. It reminded me that I am putting my neck out there, and not everyone is going to agree with what I say, but there are people that are far more moved and inspired by me than those who shut out what I say. Her words kept me going when facing more adversary in later speeches.
How will earning your Gold Award help you in your future?
Besides putting this on a resume, my Gold Award really expanded my realm of possibility. Genocide seems unstoppable, like hatred, like intolerance, like bullying. My project made me realize that regardless of whether it ever stops, we can do a lot to make a difference and improve the lives of those dehumanized. This realization will stay with me, wherever my future may take me. Beyond that, my project helped significantly expand my leadership skills (as described above), whether through public speaking, reaching out for help, or trying to inspire. I have a better grasp on what it means to inspire a crowd to do something.
Why do you feel the Gold Award is an important part of your Girl Scout experience?
The Gold Award was incredibly important for my Girl Scout experience because it put everything we do into perspective. Yes, we go camping and some troops go on international trips, but Girl Scouts really is an organization dedicated toward the betterment of the world. By completing my project, I grasped what it means to try to better the world, to dedicate all your energy and creativity into fighting one issue. This was crucial for my experience because it made me realize, that although I may not always be in a Girl Scout troop, I am still dedicated towards living like a Girl Scout.