By Tim Sanzi
It sounds ridiculous, a joke, a pipe dream, to imagine that a bunch of teenagers could in a mere two days tap inner wells of inspiration and come up with ideas to literally change the world.
But that’s what happened when Choose2MatterEGHS took place at East Greenwich High School in February.
Choose2Matter began as one woman’s vision to empower students to identify what really matters to them and work to make a difference in that area. Founder Angela Maiers’ vision has grown to a movement, with Maiers traveling from school to school sharing her message that “You Matter.”
The first step was “heartbreak mapping,” identifying on sheets of large paper what breaks your heart in our world – in other words, what do you want to see changed? Students were encouraged to go into great detail during that phase of the event, exploring a particular issue and really figuring out what it would take to do something about it.
This life-affirming storm of brilliance brought about such groups as Real Girls Matter, an organization dedicated to fostering young girls self confidence, and 50 Shades of Green, built to increase suicide-prevention and depression awareness. It prompted one group of students to raise money for treatment for those with speech impediments, while inspiring another group to work toward demolishing the Common Core.
From there, the student groups got to work with mentors from every level of the “real world” – elected officials (including Sen. Jack Reed and Rep. James Langevin), corporate CEOs and educators. Students puzzled over and fumbled with their solutions many times along the way, but the end results were surprisingly deep. More than one mentor was impressed.
The underlying message? All people have something inside of them that makes them unique and gives them the ability to be influential in situations. Or, to paraphrase the C2M slogan: people matter. For Maiers and her partner Mark Moran, the sooner we all realize this, the better.
At EGHS in February, it wasn’t surprising that top students shone during C2M. What was really exciting was the strong participation by students who normally fly under the radar. That in itself was remarkable and, in a way, the best example of Maiers’ vision.
C2M at EGHS was supposed to span two days, but yet another snow day meant the entire event was squeezed into the last day before February break. The result was a day of furious thinking, collaborating and pure energy that should have taken a week to complete. Faced with all the excitement the day generated, Principal Michael Podraza and Asst. Principal Tim Chace decided to make Saturday the second day of Choose2Matter – for anyone who wanted to attend. Astoundingly, more than 50 students showed up and began working out the details of their projects and organizations with each other. Computers were whisked around, new organization Twitter accounts flourished and credit cards flew to buy website domain names.
Beyond all the great ideas, the simple and sincere trust students showed to one another became a primary value of this event. Seeing students who ordinarily wouldn’t have the courage stand in front of 600 of their peers with the faith that their ideas were valued was a great treasure of this event.
With countless scenarios and uncertainties flying in their head, students stood up and presented their heartbreak and solution to their peers, a often unforgiving audience. Speeches were made, and solutions explained that instantly invoked large cheers and applause from the student body. Students allowed themselves to be moved by the abundant energy and creativity.
For me, Choose2Matter wasn’t just an event. Rather, it was a mindset that seemed to hold fast in the air around East Greenwich High School. Its promise seemed to envelope the entire school in a mist of carefully woven potential.
Tim Sanzi is a freshman at East Greenwich High School.