Change Happens when We Come Together

January 7, 2019

This blog post is part of a three-part series on the third annual national convening of Newman Civic Fellows hosted by Campus Compact the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate. The essays in this series are written by Newman Civic Fellows who won an essay competition among attendees of the convening. This essay is written by Atticus Rice, a communications and political science major at McDaniel College. 

By Atticus Rice, McDaniel College

I was named a 2018 Newman Civic Fellow in March. And this was a great honor. I got to give an acceptance speech at my college’s annual community engagement luncheon, shake hands with our president, and take home a pretty certificate.

Despite the nice red hue of the certificate’s frame, I was struggling to get something tangible out of this recognition, or at least to understand what I was supposed to be getting.

This all changed at the 2018 Newman Civic Fellows National Convening on Nov. 17-18 in Boston.

Within moments of arriving at the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate, where much of the program took place, I was able to connect with other Fellows who I had only met through our Facebook group since we all joined it in the spring. I remember thinking how weird it felt to recognize someone from their profile picture, sit down, and talk for nearly an hour while waiting for the program to start.

I thought it was weird, but it was also one of the greatest things. How great is it to connect with like-minded people from around the country over community and civic engagement?

Throughout the weekend, I built a network of Fellows and professionals with more ease than ever before.

We were all there for more or less the same purpose, so we could jump past any awkward introductions or grounding conversations and dive right into who we were as individuals and as students interested in making change.

The Convening helped us learn how to be change makers in a few key ways. In small group rotations, we participated in a module called World Café, where Campus Compact prepared questions that had repeatedly challenged us in virtual conversations leading up to the Convening for us to tackle in person. These smaller group discussions allowed for us to really dive into the issues at hand and take home a variety of solutions to each problem we were facing, whether that be apathy on campus or working with others.

Perhaps most central to the Convening was the Institute’s Senate Immersion Module which put us as Fellows on the floor of the Institute’s 1:1 model Senate chamber as mock senators, complete with personal, constituent, and party interests to respect as we worked on the 2014 Farm Bill.

Through careful deliberation, committee hearings, and across-the-aisle work, our group of “newly sworn-in senators” passed our version of the bill while engaging in real-world political training. But this didn’t come without committee hearings, amendments, caucusing, and even some friendly yet fierce debate on the floor.

These hands-on experiences were paired with informative and interactive conversations with community leaders who took time out of their days to help inspire us Fellows as the next leaders.

Campus Compact President Andrew Seligsohn led a “Changemaker conversation” with local civic and community leaders, including Boston City Councilor Lydia Edwards who spoke of some of the challenges she’s faced in all of her successes in her role.

Moments like these left me with snippets of information that have informed, inspired, and reinvigorated my passion for my community, that passion that led to my recognition as a Newman Civic Fellow.

And it was moments like passing the Farm Bill and problem-solving issues plaguing campuses nationwide—issues I once thought were unique to me and my community—with an entire group who met each other not even hours before doing all this that made the fellowship clear.

By coming together, we created change. Whether that was change in our personal takeaways, change in how we work in groups, change in what we knew about organizing, or even change in how we create change, we did that by coming together.

This change through gathering is the tangible thing that the Newman Civic Fellowship has given. Meeting other Fellows, connecting with like-minded people, and making new friends that live hundreds of miles away and are all interested in investing ourselves and others in our communities is what the Newman Civic Fellowship is all about. It’s about networking with one another, finding solutions to our challenges, and supporting one another in our communities.

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