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Brewster Students Win Awards and Learn Life Lessons at Columbia Model United Nations Conference and Exposition

CMUNCE XX logo with black crown Brewster High School students won big at the Columbia Model United Nations Conference and Exposition. 

Junior Emily Sullivan received a verbal commendation, seniors Diana Vink and Austin Matra received honorable mentions and senior Henry Bloss received an honorable mention as part of the ad hoc committee of the Secretary General.

“In Model UN, each student is assigned a figure within a historical or contemporary scenario,” explained Diana. “You could take on the role of George Washington in the American Revolution or the role of a nation in a current United Nations committee on the refugee crisis. From there, you sit down in a committee with other relevant figures and come up with solutions to a given problem.”

Henry stressed that you more or less take on a character during your time at the conference.

“Your opinions are the opinion of your position,” he said. “You remove all sense of self and completely become who you are assigned to be. I’ve represented Cameroon in an African Union committee; Dimitri Ustinov, the Soviet Minister of Defense, in the Afghanistan War; and Jon Snow in a Game of Thrones committee.”

While the awards are incredible accomplishments, students made it clear that they were just the cherry on top of what is always a rich experience.

“I went into the committee really expecting nothing,” said Henry. “As someone who's handled training for delegates in the past, we always tell them that awards are simply a bonus, and to go in with a desire to have fun and do your best. I brought this mindset with me to my ad hoc committee and I was pleasantly surprised when I actually won an award.”

Advisor Tom Mullane noted that it was the first time in Brewster’s 12-year history of competing at the Columbia conference that a student brought home an award in an ad hoc committee.

“The ad hoc committee is intended to be the most challenging experience a delegate can have,” Mullane said. “Spots in this committee are not offered to all participating schools. Those that do send delegates are expected to send their best overall delegate to compete, meaning the level of debate is very high.”

While other committees may have weeks to research and prepare for their role, the topic for the ad hoc committee and a delegate's position are revealed only a few days or, in some cases, a few hours before the conference opens.

“To participate in an ad hoc Committee a delegate needs experience, broad content knowledge, and has to be quick on their feet and willing to adapt,” Mullane said. “Simply attending an ad hoc committee as a delegate is considered an honor. An award in an ad hoc committee is the gold standard, and something few students achieve over their entire Model UN career.“

Henry admitted that he has won several awards at conferences in the past, but this one felt different.

“It felt like a culmination of all my experience in Model UN over my four-year journey,” he said. “I felt supremely proud of my award and, though it was unexpected, I couldn't be happier I received it.”

Diana was similarly surprised with her award.

“I made the promise to myself walking into the conference that I wouldn't put too much pressure on myself to win any awards because I was super unfamiliar with the digital format,” Diana said. “The delegates on my committee were all really strong speakers and I know that there were some crazy crisis arcs being created through the back room. It felt really nice to be honored alongside delegates who I thought were very skilled.”

As noted by Diana, this year’s format posed some unique challenges. While meeting and speaking with other delegates from across the country is a big part of the experience, it all had to be done virtually because of COVID restrictions. Preparation for the event was also different.

“Normally, delegates with experience focus on researching information regarding their committee because they're familiar with the structure of debate, but this year even the most experienced delegates had to learn how the rules of debate have adapted to a digital situation,” Diana said. “It was a lot of taking what we know and putting it into a different set of circumstances, and that was really challenging.”

Both Diana and Henry agree that Model UN conferences are as exhilarating as they are challenging.

“Model UN can, at times, be a really exhausting exercise,” Diana said. “You're surrounded in each committee by a bunch of really smart students, all very well-spoken and creative. At times, it can be difficult to stop yourself from feeling inferior and insecure, especially at awards ceremonies where you are really proud of your work and awarded nothing. One of the hardest lessons I have had to learn, and am still learning, is that there are far more important things to walk away from a conference with than an award. It sounds cliche, but I've had to learn to value conferences for what they are: learning about a new topic, meeting new people and having a good time wreaking havoc on history.“

Henry noted the life skills he and other club members pick up from the experience.

“Model UN teaches many skills that are incredibly valuable in life — diplomacy, writing, public speaking. However, more than anything, Model UN taught me how to problem-solve creatively and critically,” Henry said. “This skill to solve complex problems is one that can be applied to more than just the political sphere — every real-world job, in some way, features this problem-solution format, and I'm glad I learned this skill to the extent I did in Model UN.”

Mullane is so proud of the group’s accomplishments.

“This is the strongest group of seniors I have ever had,” he said. “Over the past few years, the club has evolved into something run by students for students. Students manage the field trip forms, conduct trainings, run committees and teach research. Our program is one the best in our region.”

Brewster High School’s Model UN will be hosting its own conference in collaboration with students from North Salem High School on March 6.

screenshot of Diana Vink's committee: the Second Persian Invasion screenshot of Diana Vink's committee: the Second Persian Invasion