By Amanda Burdette
ANNAPOLIS – The issue was a big one: whether to give independence to the world’s colonies by the turn of the century.
“I motion to extend the caucus debate by five minutes,” one delegate shouted.
There were jeers. “We don’t have the time. We need to get the proposals announced,” an opponent cried.
This debate and others grew over the past week as students from a dozen states across the country, working with midshipmen at the U.S. Naval Academy, assumed the roles of United Nations delegates in the fourth annual Model United Nations Conference.
The 400 students convened in nine committees to debate international issues such as land mines, world hunger, violence against women, overpopulation and use of biological weapons.
Midshipmen chaired the committees and organized the event. Began Morris, a midshipman second class who is serving as the project’s director general, said work began last January and has involved 150 midshipmen.
Debbie Quatterone, midshipman second class, is a public relations consultant for the event. The conference shows “midshipmen how to put thoughts into actions,” she said.
Each participating school acts as a different member country in drafting, debating and voting on resolutions.
Effort is made to organize meetings with real United Nations representatives. David Petersen, a senior at J.P Stevens High in Edison, N.J., said the officials are “really interested to help us out.”
The school sent 88 students and is representing the Russian Federation.
Lillian Hsu, a senior, is serving as a security council member concerned with tensions in Cambodia. There are a lot of ways to compile information for the debates, she said: “Research the Internet, the New York Times.”
Her fellow classmate, Lauren Chait, a junior working on the economic committee, said she reads The Economist.
David Petersen, a senior at J.P Stevens, said the time needed to gather the information is done after school. “It is a club. People rely on other people in the club for guidance,” he explained.
The three classmates agreed that the program works better as an extracurricular activity. “It is better not to have a class. You are not doing it for a good grade, but are doing it because you enjoy the issues,” Hsu said.
She said the experience has boosted her confidence and knowledge. “Before I did this I had no idea that some of these countries existed.”
Now, she said, she can “defend my ideas and present solutions” before large panels of her peers.
Petersen said it gives him “an edge in classes over other students.” But he was quick to add that he doesn’t go around all the time talking politics.
Chait said her speaking skills have improved since she first participated in the conference three years ago. When she delivers her debate, she said, “It is spontaneous. At first it wasn’t, we used note cards.”
All in all, the conference is a fun learning experience for high school students and midshipmen alike.
“We are doing what we will do as officers,” Quatterone said, referring to their leadership of the younger students.
“I don’t think I’d give it up for the world,” she concluded. -30-