On the weekend of March 16-18, approximately 650 high school students flooded hotel rooms at the Westin Copley. The students, who came from around the country and the world, arrived in Boston with suits and ties, extensive notes, and starry eyes. Phones were put away one by one as the crowds filed into their conference rooms. The doors shut, the noise died, and the fun began: the teenagers were no longer students, but delegates. Their goal? To save the world.
That was the idea behind Boston College’s sixth Model United Nations Conference (also known as EagleMUNC). Since 2012, BC students have organized the event for high schoolers as a place to develop diplomatic skills, improve teamwork, and pursue education outside of the classroom. The BC staff moderates discussion, conducts background research, and attends to every logistical detail. The high school students provide the rest—the youthful passion and energy of debate.
Within the conference, delegates can choose to participate in one of several small committees, each with a different theme and objective. Some committees may sound more familiar to the public: the UN Security Council, the UN Children’s Fund, the World Health Organization. In these committees, delegates usually represent a country, as real diplomats do in the United Nations. They often address contemporary issues, such as disease outbreaks, poverty, and military tensions.
EagleMUNC also offers several unconventional options. In the 2018 conference, delegates could join the Sons of Liberty committee, which gave each student the role of an American revolutionary. Or, plunging into the demimonde, the 1930s Crime Syndicate let delegates grapple for power in the world of New York gangs. In an ad hoc committee—the “wild card” of every year’s conference—students became citizens of the Lost City of Atlantis. In each case, the delegates were asked to maintain the highest professionalism, and were challenged to approach these situations with logic, decorum, and flexibility.
There was no absence of religious perspective at the conference, either. In the Kalmar Union committee, modeled on a medieval Scandinavian government, delegates passed directives to kill three popes over the course of the conference. By contrast, the Papal Conclave committee took the entire weekend to elect a single pontiff. The conference challenged delegates to research the Church and its significant place in history, and to treat it as a subject worthy of respect.
Perhaps the role of the Church was most clear in the Papal Conclave. A recreation of the 1534 meeting that elected Pope Paul III, the committee gave each delegate the role of a Cardinal. Since every man portrayed was a real, historical figure, the students had much research to do, both about their individual characters and about the world of 1534.
BC students (dressed in costume) moderated the committee, ensuring the delegates engaged in a thoughtful debate about what kind of pontiff the Church should elect. Members of the committee had to contend with many “crises”—surprise problems from the political and theological scene of the time. A behind-the-scenes staff worked to generate these issues, often taking the form of scandals, military conflicts, and even a Sack of Rome-style disaster that forced the delegates to work together. The Reformation remained the most pressing issue, with delegates delivering impassioned speeches against Luther’s five solae.
After a teenaged Pope was chosen, the decree was read—Habemus Papam!—and the formalities were ended. The students then spent time discussing their EagleMUNC experience. Curious about one another’s beliefs, they each stated their religious affiliations. The 33 members came from a variety of creeds: Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Protestant, Jewish, atheist, and agnostic. The committee agreed amongst themselves that, but for this indulgence of curiosity, they would not have guessed one another’s religions—a testament, perhaps, to the research, professionalism, and respect for Catholicism that the young people brought to the conference.
Over the three-day event, each high schooler spent fourteen total hours in their respective committees. They returned home Sunday, some with awards, but all with the distinction of having navigated a complex political arena. Before the summer vacation, the BC staff will decide next year’s committees, beginning again the process of turning intellectually curious students into the well-spoken, respectful leaders that they believe the world needs.