“Students today are (fill in the complaint).” Every time I hear such an outburst, I have a visceral disturbance and tend to think it says more about the shortcomings of the speaker than about the reality of today’s learners. My experiences with the 2013 cohort of 3M National Student Fellows left me full of admiration. I was thoroughly moved and inspired, finding myself blubbering through much of their plenary session at the Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education (STLHE) conference in Cape Breton. (Video available http://downwithvowels.wordpress.com/)

3M Student Fellows

3M National Student Fellows

As I’ve found with almost all 3M National Teaching Fellows, there’s often ambivalence: imposter syndrome and discomfort joining any pride and joy. Nothing has made me more proud and delighted to be part of this group than experiencing the care, commitment, wisdom, and poise of these young leaders. What a privilege to be linked with such great contributors. Forget about the “leaders of tomorrow” or “they are our future,” these students are rocking the world now.

Nothing I can write gives you a full sense of what Anita, Ameena, Vic, Emerson, Stephanie, Rosa, Gaurav, Brianna, Tristan, and Naythrah bring to the world. Yet let me attempt a few shots at illuminating how they are individually delightful and collectively amazing and inspiring: Each of the students educated a room full of educators by sharing their challenges, how they had been supported on their path, and how they advocated for others. Their messages included gems like “let’s all help each other be our better selves,”  “look for the beauty and potential in all,”  and “we can all be an audience for someone, listen carefully for the potential in others and help them truly see it.” They skillfully used the metaphor of providing a megaphone to a whisper to illustrate how we can each create space for others’ voices. What a crucial message for us all to hear. The standing ovation that followed showed their impact. Having had the pleasure and privilege of meeting them for dessert the night before, I was compelled to approach them on stage, moved to tears to tell them how proud I am of them and to offer my support.

One opportunity came quickly. I had chatted with Guarav, who mentioned that he had left a summer job because he didn’t like the way women were being treated (destroying any of your myths about today’s youth?). I was happy to connect him with some leads and throw it out to those in Calgary. I send best wishes to all those impacted by the floods and ask anyone who can benefit from a great young man who is looking “to make a positive contribution for the next 6 weeks to a program loosely related to student life, leadership, and education. I can work on a small stipend or volunteer if necessary” to let me know.

I resonated quickly with Naythrah, who has an affinity for public speaking and could be the next Oprah. All of the students spoke beautifully; Vic, who teaches inmates English in Saskatoon, delivered a thoughtful and rousing speech on behalf of the cohort – look out for Canada’s next slam poet. Brianna typified the way in which these students embraced complexity and thought deeply about contemporary challenges. We apparently share a taste for flamboyant clothes. Brianna

Although each of the students is worthy of more elaboration, I have to give my final shout out to local representative, Emerson Csorba. I knew Emerson a bit, through soccer, some years ago. We were reacquainted when he was VP-Academic for the Students’ Union at UAlberta. He did a brilliant job representing students and he has been a force to reckon with as an advocate for students and education. He left STLHE early to return for Stand Up for Edmonton, a conference he organized in the aftermath of the Alberta post-secondary budget cuts, in support of education. He is a devoted volunteer and an incredibly generous person.

The sense of community and social justice embodied by these spectacular students gives us great hope and optimism for a future that we will want to see fully.

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