My name is Violet, and I am responsible for Québec recruitment and the Theme for the 2020 National Student Commonwealth Forum (NSCF). I was a delegate for the forum last year, and it was definitely the most impactful and meaningful experience that I had during my final year of high school. I was lucky to have been selected as a member of this year’s planning team (PT), and I am excited to show a new group of Canadian youth the NSCF experience.
I entered the forum in 2019 representing Rwanda with my friend and current PT member, Eunice. We were both taking various world studies and humanities courses in high school, and felt that NSCF would be an interesting opportunity to apply some of our pre-existing knowledge to, as well as gain new insight on global affairs. We both believe it was an extremely valuable learning experience worthy of being part of everyone’s high school career.
It’s a critical time for youth to be engaged in politics. At this moment, several far-right governments have been enacted around the world and there is a concerning rise in both populist movements and extremist groups. As a result, it is easy to make rash judgements due to the fluidity of current events. It is important to be an informed citizen, and in fact a civil duty to understand one’s government and to understand ongoing global affairs, to make an educated decision of one’s political compass and to be able to make effective debate about politics.
NSCF is not your typical student forum. Engagement in NSCF promotes speaking skills, and provides excellent networking opportunities. With 53 nations in the Commonwealth, the system compels participants to develop problem-solving skills and to cultivate open-mindedness. The forum puts in the significant position of representing a country at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting. In most high school curriculums across Canada, there is little emphasis on the history of the global South. NSCF gives students an opportunity to delve into a foreign nation’s identity and apply their newfound knowledge at CHOGM. This helps to break down ethnocentric barriers we may have created throughout our time in school. Personally, the most impactful aspect of NSCF was how it made delegates critically assess how interconnected our world truly is, and how differently each nation is affected by sustainability issues within the Commonwealth.
Although I call Ottawa home, NSCF was able to still make me feel like a tourist in the city. The unique experiences such as meeting with a representative from Global Affairs Canada, in addition to the Canadian Parliamentary Association event on Parliament Hill would not have been possible without this forum. I also had the chance to host a delegate from Nova Scotia, and it was exciting to visit various local landmarks with her. Ottawa is a small city with a bureaucratic atmosphere, so it was refreshing to meet students from all across the country who brought a piece of their home with them to the forum.
A great takeaway from NSCF is also the lasting friendships and memories from the week-long forum. Canadian cities are geographically distant and dramatically individualized from each other, and it was interesting to notice how there are very niche cultures and perspectives from delegates across the country. I think it is important for Canadian youth to engage in discourse about politics to further mutual understanding. I loved how the diversity of our backgrounds greatly enhanced debate and I was exposed to a variety of ideas that I would have otherwise never considered.
My name is Benjamin Pope and I’m from Baie Verte, a town of about 1300 on the north coast of Newfoundland. In May of 2019, I attended the 47th annual National Student Commonwealth Forum, which was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. For most of my life, I was a very shy kid who hated the idea of speaking in front of other people. However, taking part in NSCF events like the Senate debate finally allowed me to break out of my shell (that, and the encouragement from the Planning Team members).
The Senate debate is one of the most amazing things you’ll experience at NSCF. When the time comes, you and the rest of the delegates take your seats in the Senators’ chairs and begin debating. When I was there, we debated about some serious topics like banning single use plastics and lowering the legal voting age. Then, later on in the evening, we lightened up with topics like renaming Ontario ‘The Centre of Canada.’ The entire experience is like no other. I mean, how often do you get to dress up fancy and go to the Senate of all places?
The most important thing I learned from my short time in the Senate is that you should never let your fears hold you back. Getting the chance to sit in the senate (let alone debate in it) is a once in a lifetime opportunity. I would have regretted the entire night had I sat through the whole thing without speaking. Who cares what anyone else thought! Sure, many of the other delegates spoke much better than I did. The fact of the matter is that I spoke when I was afraid to, and that I am better because of it. I’m more confident. I give better presentations. I’m writing a blog post so that you, the reader, won’t miss out.
The best part is, you can too! It’s all because of a few words spoken in a distant city. If you’re thinking about applying to NSCF (or anything else for that matter), but are reluctant because you don’t speak in public or don’t like crowds or have never left home - it’s ok. Apply. See what happens. Don’t let your fear restrain you. Trust me, you’ll be missing out on a heck of a lot more by staying home than by spending a week in Ottawa. It’s like Wayne Gretzky said: “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”
My name is Dawson and I am one of the NSCF 2020 Co-Chairs. The National Student Commonwealth Forum (NSCF) was a life-changing experience for me. There has been no program, conference, or youth led group I have had the privilege to be involved in that has offered me such an enriching experience. Because of how profound of an impact NSCF had on me, I wanted to stay involved in the forum after my delegate year in 2017. Fortunately, NSCF offers its alumni the opportunity to apply to return as a Planning Team member (PT), which I took up.
As a PT in 2018, I was responsible for planning Cultural Evening, one of NSCF’s main events. In 2019, I was tasked with two PT positions: Registration Registrar and In-Town Recruitment. I am now in my final year with the forum, through which I’m serving as a co-chair alongside the incredible Anna Broaders, one of my closest friends.
Clearly, there has been something about the forum that has kept me involved year after year. Thus, my purpose of writing this blog post is to explain to you exactly what that is, and why I think NSCF was not only such a life-changing opportunity for me, but can also become the same for so many other youth across Canada.
As a delegate in 2017, I came into NSCF as a shy kid with little to no debating skills and less than a year’s public speaking experience after becoming President of my high school’s student council. I felt scared and intimidated by my lack of prior experience, as well as the prospect of meeting almost a hundred people from all different parts of the country. However, this all changed the second I stepped off the escalator in the Ottawa airport. Immediately, I was greeted by the warmest, most caring group of PT members who — in that moment and throughout the entire week — made everyone in attendance feel accepted, welcomed, and given the opportunity to improve and develop.
Two notable events where this took place were Senate Night (where delegates receive the opportunity to debate issues they care about inside the Canadian Senate) and the week’s capstone event, the mock Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM). At both events, every delegate was individually encouraged to speak, and celebrated when they did so. I am the perfect example of how impactful their encouraging words were: when I tell people that I was a quiet kid before NSCF, they laugh because of how much the week brought me out of my shell. The intimidation I’d brought with me from my small town in Newfoundland melted away. I found myself speaking multiple times at both these events, discovering a newfound confidence in public speaking and debating. This experience followed me throughout both my academic and professional career, as I went on to participate in and contribute to things such as Model Parliament, Board Meetings, Executive Reports, and high level meetings. Without the confidence and skills I developed throughout the week of NSCF, none of that would be possible and for that I will forever be grateful.
Furthermore, NSCF provides youth from coast to coast to coast the opportunity to engage and interact with one another. Whether you’re someone from the largest city in the country to someone from a small, rural community, you have something amazing to learn from your peers, and NSCF is one of the rare opportunities where this happens. Myself being from Conception Bay South, Newfoundland, just coming to the city of Ottawa was a big step for me. For myself and many other rural youth at the conference, it was our first time bussing, our first taste of adult responsibility, and eventually for many, Ottawa became a city we thought of so fondly that we decided, “hey, let’s pack up and move here!”
It can be rather intimidating coming to such a “big” city when you are from rural areas in the country, but PT members and other delegates from major metropolitan areas always come together to make sure you feel safe and at home. Throughout my involvement in NSCF I have been and have watched delegates grow and experience the vast differences we face across the country. This has continued to create an understanding, compassionate group of youth.
The key piece of the NSCF puzzle that really bring things together is the amazing members of NSCF’s Planning Team. Year after year, this forum is so fortunate to have a group of people who volunteer their time to enrich the lives of youth to the absolute best of their ability — and it shows.
I have met some of the kindest, most passionate, and sweetest souls throughout this forum. Some of the most special people in my life, including my closest friends, have come from this forum and I know there are hundreds (if not thousands) of alumni across this country from its 47 years of existence who feel the same. It has been an experience that has made me strive to be a better person, to set higher goals, and to achieve more.
Anyone who has the chance to apply to NSCF should not hesitate to do so! If you decide to and happen to end up in Ottawa this spring, I truly hope you have as fulfilling an experience as I did.
NSCF 2020 Co-Chair