More than 1,000 high school students across 14 school boards in Ontario heard words of encouragement and inspiration on becoming the next generation of environmentally active citizens during Change Your World (CYW) 2017, an event hosted by York University’s Faculty of Environmental Studies (FES).
The event, held April 6 at the Keele campus, had the largest turnout to date, and headlined April’s Earth Month festivities at York.
The day-long conference transformed Vari Hall Rotunda into a theatre in the round for the event’s opening ceremonies. After a land acknowledgement and opening prayer offered by Jennifer Meness, York U PhD candidate from the Algonquins of Pikwakanagan First Nation in Ontario, FES Dean Noël Sturgeon introduced the event’s keynote speaker Sarika Cullis-Suzuki, an environmental activist, marine biologist and board member of the David Suzuki Foundation.
Cullis-Suzuki spoke to the packed house, and challenged the group to find their own individual ways to make an impact in their everyday lives and to look for ways to “come together” to make change. She offered a reminder to simply “get started.”
Her words of encouragement and inspiration kicked off the event that aims to empower students to make a positive impact on their world and to learn about opportunities in environmental and social justice action.
“Change Your World inspires high school students to imagine themselves as active agents in a world full of challenges,” Sturgeon said. “For these students, experiencing York and FES as a source of this inspiration is wonderful to see. I am particularly proud of all our alumni and community partners who organized workshops for the students and their teachers.”
As an expression of the Faculty’s commitment to cutting-edge environmental well-being and social justice, the conference included a diverse set of workshops on topics that opened the minds of the Grade 9 to 12 delegates and their teachers.
Workshops were offered by community organizations including the Toronto Zoo, Sustainable Youth Canada, Toronto Youth Food Policy Council, TREC Education, Taking It Global, Alternatives Journal and many more.
More than 30 sessions were also delivered, including those by: Selina Young (MES ’07), Ministry of Indigenous Relations & Reconciliation; Susana Goncalves (BES ’14), Credit Valley Conservation; Jeremy Biden (BES ’14), The Planning Clinic; Coreen Jones (MES ’04) and Sarah Bale (MES ’16), EcoSource; and Elanor Waslander (MES ’06), Ontario EcoSchools.
After a day of exploring possibilities to make change, delegates gathered for closing ceremonies in the Vari Hall Rotunda. These final words of inspiration included the Foundation for Environmental Stewardship Director and 3 Percent Project lead, Steve Lee.
Lee, a 24-year-old youth policy advisor to the United Nations, received enormous cheers from the crowd when he emphasized the power youth have right now and the opportunity they have make a difference more than any other generation before them.
FES acknowledges the support of all campus-wide units, as well as its staff and student team that contributed to the success of the event.