In early February, I attended the Quaker Youth Leadership Conference, for the third time, with Kate Driscoll ‘22, Collier Zug ‘24, and Xingyu Wang ‘24. Held on Zoom and hosted by Friends Select School in Philadelphia, QYLC gathered around a hundred and thirty students from around the country and the world (for the first time in the conference’s history, we had kids from Palestine and Lebanon attend, despite the time difference). Events included asynchronous service, student-led workshops, and a panel discussion with three local Philadelphian activists. Over the thirty-hour conference, we explored complex issues, like systematic racism, personal identity, and whether or not milk is just thick water. Despite the venue (or, perhaps, because of it), the virtual gathering maintained its usual ebullience. “I really enjoyed QYLC; it was a great experience to see people from all over and I really appreciated listening to the speakers,” Kate Driscoll ‘22 said.
Normally, a school (or a colloquium of schools in close proximity) hosts the conference in-person from a Thursday afternoon to a Saturday morning. Kids sleep all together on the gym floor, eat meals in the cafeteria, and have meetings for worship in the school’s meeting room. Depending on the location, participants also visit museums or local cultural sites and learn about social justice issues. Friday night features a judgment-free talent show where literally anything counts as a talent (people tell jokes, sing songs, read poems, or in the case of the Friends Select delegation in 2020, have a few kids eat a full sheet-cake while the rest of the delegations sings and dances wildly in a circle around them, loudly banging pots and pans). Saturday morning plays host to two sessions of student workshops. However, because of COVID FSS moved the conference to Zoom. While we couldn’t gather in-person and experience the conference’s usual bonding superpowers, a lot of the activities were just as good. “They were very creative about organizing activities on Zoom,” Driscoll ‘22 said. After the evening activities on both nights, those who stayed up stayed on Zoom and joked around—without disturbing the other sleeping people in the gym! People gave presentations ranking the different kinds of water and the fifty states (Delaware was twenty-second, Arkansas was last, and California was first), and we played PowerPoint karaoke (which is a really fun game) with slides with the vague theme about dolphins.
The themed activities were exceptionally good. The panel on Friday morning was dominated by Ernest Owens, a journalist and CEO, and his powerful insights into the state of social justice progress. I left that space feeling enlightened and deeply aware, in an absorptive mood. It was one of the most profound hours in my recent memory. But it was not the only fascinating activity that weekend. Two students from FSS led the group in an identity activity, in which kids turned their cameras on if they agreed with the given statements (“I identify as white/European” or “I do not have enough resources to meet my daily needs and wants”) That, too, was moving in a unique way. Students also led around twenty workshops over the two Saturday morning sessions, with topics ranging from traditional Palestinian dancing to American minstrel shows to climate change activism. I led one about conflict resolution dialogue, using cats as my examples. The diversity of subjects and perspectives was, perhaps, the most enlightening thing. “It was cool to learn about how different Quaker schools are run,” Driscoll ‘22 said, “and about many different points of view on issues that we talk about in our own school.”
Many of the issues discussed at QYLC have immediate implications from WFS, like Business Meeting management or fostering a diverse and intrinsically-inclusive school community. In that sense, QYLC acted (and always acts) in some respects as a (not totally scientifically accurate) prism, where a hundred beams of light intersected and then dissipated again, ready to go forth and bring back more light to their homes. After a crazy year, QYLC again gave what it always promised: a reinvigoration, a hope to do better in the future.