An Experience of a Lifetime

Prem Rajgopal, Grade 12, Fox Chapel Area High School

As “Viva La Vida” boomed on the sound system, and as I saw the crowd of 1300 people from 183 different countries sing along, a chill ran down my spine. This exhausting, eventful weekend was coming to a close, yet I didn’t want it to end. No, I was content with living on five hours of sleep and the same number of cups coffee every day, if it meant having this experience.

The One Young World 2012 Summit was held in my hometown of Pittsburgh, and I had the honor of attending as a student reporter. This job of mine was a new construct, and I controlled what I wanted to get out of this event. I decided that listening to others was the best way to learn, and as a result I stayed in the auditorium for hours on end each day.

Whether hearing Bill Clinton lambast the inequality and unsustainability of the world, or Kofi Annan address the terrible unrest in Syria, I was exposed to a set of problems that really put my life in perspective. Here I am, a highschool student in a privileged country, worrying about such insignificant things like which college I will go to, while the whole world is faced with so many ills. Starvation, drought, obesity, lack of education, corruption, poverty, climate change, gender discrimination, disease, unethical businesses, human rights violations, and war. How could I possibly come to grips with this world?

Although discouraged by these terrors, I listened closely to hear the great attempts to solve the world’s problems around me. I heard from a Kenyan friend about his organization that helped empower female youth while stopping the cruel practice of genital mutilation. I spoke with an Afghanistani woman who had to keep her presence secret, as the idea of a woman traveling alone to another country could easily spark violence towards her family. I listened to the words of Muhammad Yunus as he talked about the success of his microfinance programs which empowered the poor. As the conference progressed, my outlook had completely changed.

Gandhi famously said, “be the change you want to see,” and this quotation was repeated numerous times throughout the conference. I’m not yet sure know how I’m going to leave my mark, but I do know that I can and will help the world one step at a time. While progressing with my studies, I hope to find an inspiration that can make me akin to all of these magnificent people whom I have heard. Until then, all I can do is prepare.


  • MFair

    Wonderful. What a perfect way of describing the power of this weekend!

    22 Oct
  • SBelch

    Great job, Prem. I echo all the sentiments expressed in your piece. It was so amazing to become friends with all the reporters and also some of the coolest young leaders from around the world.

    22 Oct
  • Debra

    What an opportunity! Thank you for sharing your experience, here and in class. I am quite sure that you will “be the change that you want to see.”

    23 Oct
  • Elianna Paljug

    Wonderful piece. You’ve expressed exactly what I felt! I went through the same cycle of despair from all the horrible atrocities discussed, then on to hope – I believe that with the passion expressed by everyone at OYW to make a change, anything is possible.

    24 Oct

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