Out of school for the summer? It’s a great time to relax, but this doesn’t mean you have to let your brain turn to mush while eating cereal and watching SpongeBob SquarePants all day in your underwear. Just because you don’t have a professor standing over you doesn’t mean that you should stop challenging your brain. We are Generation Y, the generation that will soon be running the world. What sort of place is that going to be like if we don’t even know what’s happening in it?
Over the past couple summers, one group of friends gathered together to learn more about the major issues the world was facing at the time. They called it Summit of the Minds.
The Summit of the Minds was born from a compulsion to challenge the minds of our generation. There was always a need to exchange thoughts and opinions within this group of friends. Most parties were a mix of both drinking games and discussions of current events. But the catalyst for creating a more serious space for these “talks” came from an encounter with a less inquisitive peer.
A few guys were delving into the topic of the European Economic Crisis. It was 2011, and the issue was fresh and of interest. Mind you, these twenty-somethings were just hanging out, and are by no means a “strictly business” group of guys. In fact, on the invite to the Summit, it had to be very clearly stated that it was not going to be a party. If it hadn’t been, I’m 100% sure someone would have shown up “ready to rage.” Still, they’re intelligent kids and interested in what’s happening in the world around them.
So while they were sharing their opinions on Europe’s crisis at hand, another peer walked over to them. She asked what they were talking about. When they told her, her face turned sour, and she asked them (with some attitude) “Why?!”
Her reaction to the fact that a group of her peers were talking about something political, instead of how trashed they had been the prior weekend, triggered something in one of the boys.
Austin Rochon was utterly disgusted with the response. “People in our generation should care about something other than what happened in the latest Kardashian escapade. Not that I have anything against those kinds of shows, I like them, they’re entertaining, but I think it’s important to be aware of what’s going on in the world outside of that.”
Spurred on by the anger he felt at this negative response to what he considers to be a highly important part of being in our generation (discussing current events with each other), he decided to create the Summit of the Minds.
He made a group and event on Facebook and invited quite a lot of his current and former classmates.
“He also hand picked a few of us based on what we were currently studying, and our travel experience. I had just come back from studying abroad in Geneva and working with HURIDOCS there. It’s a humanities company, so he thought I’d be able to give input from that experience. I know that he was an Economics major, and our friend Annie was studying Sociology, so yeah, there was a variety of experience to feed off of.” Brooke Hunter tells me when thinking back to her first encounter with the invite to the Summit.
Annie Schneider agreed, “I don’t get numbers, but I loved hearing the economic side of things. After a large set of numbers were explained I would say, ‘Well wait, try to put a face on that. Do you still see the situation the same way?’ I liked to take what was being said, and bring a human side to it.”
The Summit was a platform for the young people of Hawaii to come together, express their opinions, ask questions, and feed their minds. The floor was open.
The first Summit was a bit of an experiment. It was more relaxed and questions just flowed. The second Summit was a little more formal. There was a set agenda.
It began with an “open discussion” of a few topics. During this time, anyone in the meeting could express their views, ask questions, and enter into the debate.
There were also set “Issue Panels.” These were smaller, more detailed discussions in which a Panel Chair would facilitate a smaller group on a specific topic. These panel members had been told their topics ahead of time so that they could prepare with researching and exploring their issue. Once the panel was done with their in-depth discussion (around 15 minutes), the issue would be opened up to the rest of the Summit. This allowed for the maximum amount of information to be introduced.
Austin had also been working with APEC during their stay on Oahu, Hawaii. One of the people he met during his time with APEC worked with the current mayor, Kirk Caldwell, and asked him if he’d be willing to come to the second Summit of the Minds. The mayor agreed. So, the mayor was scheduled in as a guest speaker.
Annie Schneider never doubted the potential of her peers. “I knew once the floor was open, and a space was created, the possibility of sharing was also created. I knew what our friends were capable of. I was just grateful that people were willing to take advantage of that space.”
Still, it was surprising and encouraging to see “someone I thought of as just a happy-go-lucky ‘cruiser’ stand up and shoot informed and intelligent questions at Kirk Caldwell about the rail.” The rail was a huge point of controversy in Hawaii at the time, and Austin considers the surprising amount of interest shown by one of his former classmates to be one of his fondest memories of the Summit.
“It was also cool to see kids who came from certain economic backgrounds challenging the views they had been brought up with. They were forming their own opinions,” adds Brooke.
As for Annie, her favorite memory of the summit is nothing so specific. It was the feeling she felt when the first meeting was over. A kind of euphoria. Like how you feel right after you work out. You should be exhausted, but instead are filled with buzzing energy. It was eight hours of intense discussion. In a generation that is considered to be apathetic, it was amazing to see that notion challenged. She doesn’t think that our generation has to become large political influencers all at once, but there is definite hope for the future. “Actually, after the first meeting, I think we all went over to Austin’s house and just played a game of Risk,” she thinks back laughing.
The Summit of the Minds started out as friends just talking with each other, and grew into a platform where the opinions and education of Generation Y could be called to action.
With the help of one of the attendees, Troy Thompson, the Summit was introduced to and recognized by Senator Slom and the Hawaii State Legislature (pictured below).
It just goes to show that we have the choice to refuse the life of an apathetic twenty-something and to take charge of our futures.
Austin’s advice for other young people who want to create something like the Summit of the Minds: Don’t be afraid to be optimistic.
“If you have built castles in the sky
Let not your dreams go to waste; that is where they should be.
Just build the foundations under them.”
-Henry David Thoreau
So you want to host a summit of the minds? Here’s what you need to do.
1. Be optimistic. Do not doubt the abilities of your peers.
2. Find a venue. Find out what it will take to rent the space for an afternoon. It will preferably be a room that can seat everyone comfortably and has desks on which to take notes. You may want to look into what supplies you’ll need if people have presentations prepared. There was at least one slide show during the Summit, so a projector and screen were necessary.
3. Prep your formal wear (in other words, “Suit up!”). It may seem restraining and unnecessary, but it helps to keep the tone of the event on point. If the atmosphere is professional, the quality of the discussion will increase.
4. Disconnect. Upon entering, have everyone silence their cellphones and disarm themselves of any other electronic device. Place the cell phones in a box and put them away until the meeting is over. Ask people to bring hard copies of their notes. Trust me. People want to be distracted. Don’t give them a chance.