The Whittier Miscellany

Building Bridges in Brooklyn: QYLC 2017

March Issue

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Building Bridges in Brooklyn: QYLC 2017

“Your Daily Dose of Vitamin C” performing at Coffeehouse; 
from the left: Agne ’18, Nix ’19, Ergueta ’18, Knudsen ’19, Wakeley ’17, Gooderham ’17.

“Your Daily Dose of Vitamin C” performing at Coffeehouse; from the left: Agne ’18, Nix ’19, Ergueta ’18, Knudsen ’19, Wakeley ’17, Gooderham ’17.

“Your Daily Dose of Vitamin C” performing at Coffeehouse; from the left: Agne ’18, Nix ’19, Ergueta ’18, Knudsen ’19, Wakeley ’17, Gooderham ’17.

“Your Daily Dose of Vitamin C” performing at Coffeehouse; from the left: Agne ’18, Nix ’19, Ergueta ’18, Knudsen ’19, Wakeley ’17, Gooderham ’17.

Sarah Gooderham, Editor-in-chief

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After close to four hours of travel in a van, on a train, and on the subway, the eight of us emerged from the cavernous New York City subway onto the streets of Brooklyn.  I’d never been there before; the energy of the city was a foreign yet welcome sensation as we studied a map and figured out where to go.  Eventually, we found our destination: Brooklyn Friends School on Lawrence Street.

This is it, I thought as we entered the glass doors. The smiling faces of student organizers greeted us.  This is my last QYLC.

Every year, there’s this wonderful gathering that happens in early February.  Students and teachers at Friends schools from across the country, the continent, and the world, flock to one Quaker school for two days of discussion, excursions, learning, togetherness, and friendship.  This year’s Quaker Youth Leadership Conference was co-hosted by Brooklyn Friends School and Mary McDowell Friends School from February 2nd-4th.  Past conferences have been in Providence, RI in 2016, Charlottesville, VA in 2015, and even close to home, when Westtown Friends hosted in 2014.  Our own Wilmington Friends even hosted in 2009.

After arriving and shedding our luggage, we were given a little time to explore Brooklyn while the remaining school groups arrived.  Our group was comprised of Evelyn Wakeley ’17, Mary Agne ’18, Cecilia Ergueta ’18, Kat Nix ’19, Lucy Knudsen ’19, Mary Woodward, Ellen Johnson, and myself.  Half of us were hungry and so went to get food, but the other half opted to simply explore.  It was not long before we stumbled upon a protest; hundreds of people, mainly Middle Eastern men, were gathered at the steps of the Brooklyn Borough Hall.  Many had signs protesting President Trump’s travel ban (this was before news of the ban’s suspension broke), but an overwhelming majority held American flags.  Indeed, there were more flags or flag-decorated clothes than posters.  The people, many of whom owned bodegas, had walked out of their jobs at noon to come and protest, but from where I was standing, rather than seeing hatred towards the President, they seemed united by love; love for each other, and love for what they know this country can be.  It reminded me of the loving community spirit of QYLC.

The theme for this year’s conference was “Building Bridges;” appropriate given the looming presence of the Brooklyn Bridge (a mere five blocks away from Brooklyn Friends), and certainly given the current state of the world.  In a time when it seems like bridges are only being burned, QYLC participants chose to gather in the name of construction.

It’s no easy feat to describe QYLC to those who have not attended and generally have no idea what the conference is, but I usually go with saying that it’s 50% hippie/hipster kids hanging out and having a good time, and 50% conversations, activities, and discussions with the smartest, most engaged, socially aware, intellectual, and all-around incredible group of young people anywhere.  Take everything you love about Quaker education and multiply it a hundred thousand times; that’s what QYLC feels like.  It is my firm belief that the attendees of QYLC could solve all the world’s problems, if given enough time.

The mood of the group made it clear that every single person is at the conference because they chose to attend.  This was the third year I chose to attend. And it is with a strong conviction that I say that this year was my favourite in every way.  This was due in large part to my own personal growth; in 2015, I was notably more shy, and the idea of talking to a stranger for longer than a minute or two was just too much to bear.  2016 was an improvement, but it was not until this time around that I finally learned the ultimate lesson of QYLC: you get out of the conference what you put in.  To that end, this year, I had made it my express goal to meet and become friends with as many people as possible.

And I succeeded. And, yes, I may never see any of these people again.  But just by meeting them and talking with them, they have all changed me in some way.  I am not the same person I was before I met each person; that’s the way our universe works.

QYLC is a place to surrender to the ebb and flow of the universe.  Only by letting the flow of the conference take me wherever I needed to go, did I truly experience all it had to offer.

On Friday morning, as all of the WFS students sat and ate breakfast together, we were approached by Max Kotsonis, a senior at Mary McDowell, who promptly tried to convince us to enter Coffeehouse, QYLC’s talent show.  Initially, we resisted, until someone suggested our talent be peeling oranges.  We did end up performing: the six of had an orange-peeling race onstage, while singing, “I’m A Little Teapot.”  We named our group “Your Daily Dose of Vitamin C.”  Of course, none of us could sing properly because we were laughing so hard.

The open-mindedness of the students at QYLC, my peers, is perhaps my favorite part.  In a discussion group I was part of, lead by a then-total stranger who turned out to be the most amazing person I met at the whole conference, we talked about the relationship between creative forces and destructive forces, and how they relate to the Quaker notion of the inner light.  Our discussion began with someone wondering if premarital sex was simultaneously a destructive and creative force, and ended with using two gummy bears in a lunch box to explain Plato’s allegory of the cave.  We certainly surrendered to the flow of the universe in the discussion group; or was it the flow of the conference?

Suddenly, it was Saturday morning and the conference was over.  Everyone said goodbye to their friends, hugged, exchanged numbers, trying to soak up every last minute of the incredible community.  As I descended back into the subway on Jay Street, about to leave Brooklyn, that same thought ran through my head: This is my last QYLC.  I was simultaneously filled with deep sadness and extreme joy.  Never before had I really experienced everything QYLC had to offer, and though all those brief relationships were essentially coming to a close, I felt intense gratitude for having met each person and had each experience.  This was my last QYLC.  This had been the best QYLC.

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Building Bridges in Brooklyn: QYLC 2017