The first thing I noticed about the 2016 population of delegates was that many of the participants were older. While there were many young adults around my age, the majority of the throng was comprised of middle aged thinkers, ready to influence the younger with their own mantras and isms.
The crowd was wildly diverse, cementing the international feel of the Assembly. The countries most represented were Malaysia, South Korea, the Philippines, and surprisingly Australia. Of the roughly fifty members, four were from Australia, competing against the host U.S. presence of a slim three, myself included. All walks of life were present, all races, classes, sexual orientations. It quickly became clear that youth was merely a state of mind. Mr. Dickson constantly reminded us that ambition and desire made individuals young at heart, thusly explaining the presence of the older crowd. A willingness to listen came next, a prelude to the UN’s creed of “promoting” sustainable development (a post on that to come).
During the final days of the Washington D.C. portion of the program, the group of delegates were released onto the national mall to navigate the field and tour the various attractions. The sun set on the Lincoln memorial, turning the white efface orange. The national monument stood in the distance, its shadow becoming one with the encroaching darkness, just as the delegates became one with the crowd of tourists. We visited the Korean wall, its glassy surface reflecting the still soldiers poised among the foliage. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. towered thirty feet above us, his stone face stoic. Across the Potomac, Thomas Jefferson stood, sheltered in his dome.
In these moments, the sheer scale of our country coalesced into one thrill, thrown to the night breeze and scattered across the Capital. The other delegates took their pictures and discussed their awe of the timeless monuments before us. The attraction had me transfixed. Growing up in the area had numbed me to the significance of the tour years ago, but looking through the eyes of out of towners reinvigorated my pride. One of the Australians had hurt her ankle during the Great Falls hike on day one, and came out on the tour in a wheelchair. She wouldn’t let her ailment hinder her. The appreciation of these towering giants reminded me how IYLA came about in the first place, in celebration of freedom. Of Dr. King’s message of equality.
This thrill would fade in the coming days, as the IYLA became fully realized.