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When Local Is National: The Benefits of Living in the “First in the Nation” State

When Local Is National: The Benefits of Living in the “First in the Nation” State
Lynne Palmer

In late January Lila Glanville ’22 approached Head of School Craig Gemmell to express her interest in attending the NH Youth Climate and Clean Energy Town Hall in Concord, N.H. She was hoping he would be able to help her and a few other interested students find a ride to the event. Without any hesitation and with plenty of enthusiasm, Gemmell responded, “I’ll take you!” So on February 5, Gemmell headed down to Concord with Lila, Alyson Nagorniak ’22, and Elisha-Grace King ’23 for a non-partisan, youth-centered educational forum engaging the 2020 presidential candidates around climate and clean energy. The event’s sponsors—Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business, the Hubbard Brook Research Foundation, and Stonyfield Organic—recognizing New Hampshire as a training ground for many of the brightest scientific scholars and future business and environmental leaders, sought to give graduate, undergraduate, and high school students the chance to hear directly from candidates about their climate and clean energy agendas and to engage with the candidates in student-moderated question and answer sessions.

Compelled by the students’ initiative and interest, Gemmell was thrilled to be able to clear his schedule and spend the day listening and engaging with the students and candidates. Trained as a marine biologist and holding a Ph.D. in Environmental Studies, Gemmell has long been cognizant of and concerned about environmental issues, but what resonated most powerfully about this opportunity was the students’ initiative. Throughout the day, he explained, he felt so proud watching the Brewster students in action:

“I was so utterly impressed with our students. Their maturity, focus, and open-mindedness were really striking,” he said. “They will inherit the consequences of today’s public policy decisions, and they are working hard to figure out the best solutions for their future. Their questions demonstrated their thoughtfulness and eagerness to understand, and it was also really cool to see how at ease they were in the face of major political figures. And the girls’ unfiltered sense of the candidates really helped me see them free from my own biases; I was grateful for that. At Brewster, we aim to graduate students who have the confidence and curiosity to live purposeful lives. It’s so inspiring to see these sophomores and freshmen already doing just that.”

Lila captured well the importance of the day for her: “Right now it is really important to be aware of what is going on around the world. We need to be informed,” she said. “I think it is really critical for students to learn about the political world around them. We need to understand the candidates’ stances on the environment. Sometimes Brewster feels like a bubble, where the outside world doesn’t matter. The experience of going out into the community and being able to form my own informed opinions is something I value greatly.”

Canadian Elisha-Grace remarked, “Even though I’m from Vancouver, I have my opinions! I think we need a new perspective in the White House.” Like Lila, Elisha-Grace commented on the importance of knowing what is happening in the world. At home, she and her parents have “regular conversations” about current events, and they have encouraged her to develop her own perspective on them. At Brewster, faculty and administrators alike recognize how important these conversations are and do everything in their power to foster them.

Here in the “first in the nation” primary state, Brewster students have—literally at times—a front row seat in the nation’s political process. Gemmell noted that when he walked in with three high school students—visibly some of the youngest students in the crowd—they were quickly ushered to the front, and candidates were eager to reach out directly to the students. Commenting on their proximity to the candidates, Elish-Grace shared, “It was awesome. Last year, I would never have thought I would get this opportunity to be so close to the candidates I was used to seeing on television.” Although the primary polls closed last night here in New Hampshire, the impact of seeing this process in action up-close continues to enrich students’ experiences. Throughout the fall and into the winter, students have had numerous opportunities to engage. Doug Skelley and Joe Lake brought in local organizers from various campaigns to talk with students about their work and the primary process, and students in “Current Issues in the Global Context” and “Modern Essay” classes walked across the street several weeks ago to hear Andrew Yang speak at Wolfeboro’s Town Hall. Valeria Ramos ’22 has been working as an intern with the Biden campaign, and a host of day students were able to listen to Pete Buttigieg speak to a large crowd at Kingswood High School on January 4.

Tigist Murch ’21 and Sydney Caldwell ’21 put on their presidential candidate caps when they participated in a speech-writing contest sponsored Civics 101, a podcast produced by New Hampshire Public Radio that airs nationally. The contest challenged students across the country to create short, civics-themed presidential stump speeches. Brewster students participated as part of Sarah Hunt and Kyle Reynolds’ public speaking module. Tigist was one of three national winners for her speech about equal pay for women. “I will bring this country what it needs: equal pay for all, just as it should have been from the beginning,” she stated firmly at the end of the speech. Sydney’s speech on prison reform was tapped as a finalist, and won the “Most Humanist Approach to a Problem” accolade from the judges. 

These opportunities are rich, and so is Brewster’s commitment to helping our students gain exposure to the experiences that enable them to become informed and engaged in our local and global communities.

Photo credits: Alyson Nagorniak 

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