When given two options for a leadership conference theme—“Our Past, Our Progress: Achieving Peace Through Activism” and “Our Past to Present: Working Toward Peace Through Activism”—which is the better choice?
As it turns out, neither: the ideal theme is “Our Past, Our Progress: Promoting Peace through Activism.”
It’s questions like these, among many others of greater significance, that the SSFS Spiritual Life Committee grappled with for months whilst planning this year’s Quaker Youth Leadership Conference (QYLC). While SSFS has been sending students to this conference for years, this year’s QYLC was markedly different not only because it was the first fully in-person conference in two years, but also because, for the first time ever, SSFS proudly hosted the conference on our very own campus. With nearly 200 students and teachers coming together from across the country for three days of reflection, reunion, education, and fun, planning was a daunting task. But with Director of College Counseling Chris Miller and Student Representative to Spiritual Life Siri Eller leading the charge alongside a devoted group of students and faculty from both SSFS and nearby Quaker school Friends School of Baltimore, a beautiful and moving conference was successfully put together.
In accordance with the aforementioned theme, keynote speakers at this year’s QYLC included Amelia Kegan, the associate general secretary for policy and advocacy for the Friends Committee on National Legislation, and Dyresha Harris, environmental activist as well as director and longtime attendee of Catoctin Quaker Camp. Both spoke about their respective passions and how, in their own unique ways, they were able to promote peace and progress through activism. Dyresha led the students in a hands-on activity using the Theory of Change template to engage students in what topics were most meaningful to them.
In addition to engaging with a variety of inspiring speakers, students had the opportunity to explore various museums in Baltimore where they were able to reflect meaningfully on the past while looking excitedly toward the future. Before a Meeting for Worship in the Homewood Friends Meeting House, students and faculty heard from Letrice Gant, one of the founders of the Baltimore Peace Movement, speak about what it is like to build a grassroots movement with the aim of ending the seemingly impossible problem of gun violence.
While the conference certainly had a focus on learning, it also notably offered student leaders from near and far a valuable chance to interact, share ideas, and, perhaps most importantly, have a good time. With the first night featuring a Frazleerham tournament and the second a talent show starring the SSFS student leaders singing both “The George Fox Song” in a round and “Fight Fight Inner Light” simultaneously, this year’s QYLC gave ample opportunities for students to engage with one another beyond an academic setting and forge lasting friendships. And with workshop options ranging from a powerful discussions of identity to Show Up and Find Out, a combination arts and crafts, origami, and catching-marshmallow-in-your-mouth activity session, a welcoming space for each and every attendee and their unique interests was available.
The conference concluded on Saturday with a beautiful, heartfelt Meeting for Worship in the Sandy Spring Meeting House. Despite the bitterly cold weather, many students opted to walk to the Meeting House, an experience that one student later reflected became a unique sort of Meeting in and of itself. Guided by SSFS seniors, these students visited the Sandy Spring for which SSFS is named, witnessed winter scenes of nature and wildlife, and, of course, skipped and sang karaoke to keep warm. Once everyone was settled at the Meeting House, countless students and faculty alike shared meaningful stories and expressions of gratitude for the opportunities and experiences provided by QYLC. While the end of the conference is always tainted by sadness as new friends and old go their separate ways, it is evident that this year’s message of peace and potential will continue to have a positive impact on Friends schools across the country for many years to come.