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Making a Change: How a Millennium Fellow Engaged at the United Nations Transforming Education Summit

Millennium Fellow Suzzel Alberto outside the UN Headquarters

“One child, one teacher, one book, one pen can change the world.” -Malala Yousafzai

When you ask a child what they want to be when they grow up, there are some common answers; a doctor, rockstar, or astronaut. Along with becoming a doctor, I had two other very specific goals by the time I was eight years old, to become a mermaid and attend a United Nations Summit. So far I’ve accomplished one, working on another, and have learned to accept swimming as a human is as close as I’m going to get.

When I received an email informing me of an opportunity to apply to attend the United Nations Transforming Education Summit 2022, I literally stopped everything I was doing and sent in my application. The days ahead felt like they dragged on and my emails went through a drought. The application process got extended, as did the acceptance process, prolonging the wait even more. Finally, the day the acceptances were sent out came and went. I thought to myself “I didn’t get it”. Then, three days later on Monday, 12 September, I received an email from the UN informing me that I was accepted. The emotions I felt were overwhelming, tears welled up in my eyes, and I was shaking with excitement. I, the daughter of political refugees, was chosen to attend a United Nations Summit on education!

The reality set in and I realized I had three days to book a flight, book a hotel, and pack. As I looked at flights, they were disappearing by the time I would scroll through to the next page. As it turned out, not only was there a UN Summit followed by the UN general assembly, it was also New York Fashion Week. Needless to say, New York was in high demand. Despite the chaos, I was able to get everything taken care of. The following day, I checked my itinerary to discover that everything I had booked was a day off! A clear sign that I had to slow down and take my time in my actions.

The day came, by eleven pm I would be on a redeye flight to New York. The next morning, this California girl woke up on the opposite American Coast. Once settled in, I decided to get ahead of the game by walking from my hotel to the United Nations Headquarters to map out how much time to allot to it the day of the Summit. I was able to pick up my entry badge and took a proud photo in front of the universal flags while representing my university as well, Arizona State. As a California native, you grow up hearing “West Coast is the best coast” and about this unspoken rivalry with the East Coast. Within a few hours of being in New York, I realized that this rivalry couldn’t be more wrong. I fell in love with the city! I couldn’t wait to explore and eat all the amazing food. I was standing in the Strawberry Fields Memorial when it hit me, I was going to be attending an actual UN Summit the next day.

I don’t know if it was the nerves or the adrenaline of being in New York for the first time AND for a Summit but I had the best sleep. I got a wonderful start to my day by meeting up with another Millennium Fellow, who also happened to be from ASU as well. It was a great start to the many amazing connections and friendships I would encounter on this journey.

The morning arrived for day one of the Transforming Education Summit: Mobilization Day.

This day was unlike any other UN Summit because they opened their doors to youth from around the world to speak from the source of the topic at hand, education. It was a youth-led and youth-designed experience. The Deputy Secretary General, Amina J. Mohammed, said this was the most detailed summit she had ever attended and commended the passion of the youth in addressing SDG 4. The youth were joined by stakeholders and high-level government representatives from around the world.

While in the first security line questions began to run through my head; What if I wasn’t ready? What if I didn’t make the most of my experience? Will I make an impact? It’s only natural that my first time at the United Nations would be filled with such an array of emotions. Once passing the security clearance, we were welcomed by art installations and interactive art. A vivid and inviting entrance took away most of those thoughts I had while in line. The colours, the messages, and the crowd were all deeply inspiring.

The Summit opened with a musical performance by Sara Marley and Brenda Vongova.

As the day progressed I was enthralled by the power of the youth. They knew what they wanted to say and demanded to be heard and respected. The words of a population that is often spoken for but never heard from.

It was a beautiful display of genuine urgency to transform education worldwide. There were speeches, Q&A panels, and networking opportunities. It was as if the art we were welcomed with transcended into live performances filled with emotions and compassion to make a difference.

As the day progressed I had opportunities to meet with high-level government officials, alumni of the Millennium Fellowship, and social entrepreneurs advancing the SDGs. Each meeting was different from the last and all were amazing.

Sam Vaghar w/ Millennium Fellows; Lizzie, Akul, & Suzzel

Along the way, I got to meet current fellows from different cohorts and the co-founder of the Millennium Fellowship, Sam Vaghar. Getting to experience the UN with Sam and the other Millennium Fellows made my time there more memorable than I could have imagined.

The end of day one rounded off with successful networking, passion-filled energy for change, and lots of blisters. Who knew you’d be walking so much at a Summit? Not me! I wore sandals the next day. I figured I could represent my state of California while catering to my sore feet. Rule #1 of New York: comfortable shoes.

Day two: Solutions Day provided a space for Member States and partners to convene on key issues emerging from the five Thematic Action Tracks of the Summit and to mobilize support for action that will deliver transformative change at the country level. Main room conferences and 48 different breakout sessions throughout the day. This was my opportunity to attend sessions in areas that targeted my interests.

It was kicked off by the legendary Amina J. Mohammed, followed by the unpredictable and bold words of Professor Jeffrey D. Sachs, Director of the Center for Sustainable Development at Columbia University and SDG Advocate. He called upon leaders in the room to “do the math”, the funds are there but we aren’t allotting them correctly towards global education. Day two was enlightening, it was a reflection of the voices heard the day before. Mentions of the youth’s words the day before were reiterated by excellencies and delegates. The Secretary General of the United Nations assured young people that “He was not here to speak, but to listen.” A statement that set the tone for all leaders to listen keenly and pledge to keep their word.

This day was filled with innovation and resilience. Diverse panels with captivating ideas for progress in education. Plans for education equity, inclusion, quality and relevance across all platforms. Conversations on how the COVID-19 pandemic has caused unprecedented times but also led to fast-paced necessary growth. The pandemic pushed us all into the digital age faster than any of us could have dreamt, a transition that was long overdue. This can be an opportunity to provide education in areas that may not have access or resources.

There were moments of humour. A digital presentation on artificial intelligence having technical difficulties, the Deputy Secretary General of the U.N. saying “I know, her again” in her fourth speech, laughs exchanged in the hallways. Constant reminders that we were all there to not just to suggest much-needed changes in education, but to interact as humans.

The passion for a positive change in the world’s education and overall well-being was awe-inspiring. Truly an experience I will never forget. I plan to continue acting on making the world a better place with the same energy I put forth at the United Nations.

When it comes to the SDG spotlighted at this Summit, I believe that education should not be a privilege but a basic human right. We can all be a part of moving the world forward in this regard.

If you ever get the chance to attend a United Nations Summit, I highly recommend it. I also highly recommend boldly advocating for what you believe in. We are all important, all our voices matter, and all our dreams can come true. What we do in our todays will always affect our tomorrows. I am honored to have been able to attend this event and look forward to seeing the change we all are a part of.

#UNGA with Ms Jayathma Wickramanayake, United Nations Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth

Thanks to the Millennium Fellowship, MCN, the United Nations Academic Impact, and every person I’ve met along the journey; I am more confident in myself and my hope for the world is strong.

“Be the change you want to see in the world.” -Mahatma Ghandi


Suzzel Alberto is a Class of 2022 Millennium Fellow from the Arizona State University. She serves as ASU Chapter President of the National Society of Collegiate Scholars. Connect with her on LinkedIn.


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