THE BLOG
07/19/2013 10:50 am ET Updated Sep 18, 2013

Dancing Together: Reflections from the UN Youth Assembly

"Education First!"

"Malala Day!"

On Friday, July 12th, five hundred voices representing over eighty-five countries filled the United Nations Trusteeship Council Chamber. Voices full of energy, enthusiasm and a renewed sense of purpose.

We gathered together as Youth Delegates to celebrate Malala's 16th birthday and to listen to her give her first public address after being shot in the head last October.

As we walked through the halls of the United Nations, where words like "Peacekeeping" and "Human Rights" lined the walls, I felt a sense of connectedness. Connected and uplifted by our shared understanding that education is the only way forward. United by our belief that until we deliver an education to every girl and every boy, our generation still has a lot of work ahead of us.

Throughout the afternoon, we (the Youth Delegates) had the opportunity to attend thematic discussions and skill building workshops presented by individuals from institutions like UNICEF, UNESCO, the Brookings Institution and 10x10.

At the Education First Youth Fair, various representatives from UN Agencies and NGOs highlighted their efforts, successes and, of course, their fierce commitment to the global movement for gender equality and education.

Malala Day compelled me to reflect on the value of education and how we can explore learning in creative ways. Most importantly, we were challenged to think about the following question: Why have we personally joined the global fight for education? Both formally and informally, these conversations and discussions unfolded.

During the UN Youth Assembly, along with ten other delegates who were selected to speak, I offered the following brief remarks:

I am a woman. An impassioned advocate for girls' education.

And I am also a dancer.

Through my experiences in Chicago, Swaziland and Cambodia, I have witnessed the power of dance to stretch across cultural divides, create a community of learning and empower individuals.

Movement conveys our stories. Stories of struggle, of strength, of reconciliation, and rebirth. Dance resonates within us and calls forth a unifying spirit.

We must remember that learning takes many forms. Our learning opportunities must extend beyond the classroom.

For me, exploring and experimenting with dance styles ranging from ballet to tango allowed me to connect with new ideas and new people. Unfamiliar patterns and percussions provided a new lens with which I could push boundaries. I discovered new ways to dance and to think.

In Swaziland, my Welsh friend and I danced tango. In Cambodia, I taught Creative Movement classes to young children. In Chicago, I danced with women from different high schools and racial backgrounds.

These moments - and movements - are necessary. They lift our spirits and encourage creative thinking. Differences slowly dissolve as we get lost in something bigger than ourselves.

Throughout my life, education has been dance - a graceful intersection and interaction of ideas, people and cultures. Dance and education bring a richness and feeling of hope to our lives.

Nelson Mandela said, "Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world."

I think the value of art as a tool to educate is sometimes overlooked. But to build peace and trust, to transcend differences, to emerge from conflict, we need movement.

Dance is both a powerful and sustainable force to change the world. It offers a different lens - one which we can use to better understand ourselves and the world around us. Schools are imperative, but they must be enhanced by other forms of learning.

The United Nations has marked 2015 as the deadline for the Millennium Development Goals. Achieving universal primary education for every child may seem daunting.

We may feel that we are just one person - one dancer.

So, we begin by taking little steps. And then larger steps. Together.

Can we stand together? Learn together? Dance together?

Yes. Yes. Yes. We must dance ... to learn.

Note: I have added additional thoughts to the above speech that were not included in my original remarks. My experiences at the UN Youth Assembly and the conversations I engaged in with the Youth Delegates deepened and enhanced my understanding of education and learning, which I felt compelled to include in the piece.