By Erica Strand
Special to the Intermountain Catholic
SALT LAKE CITY — A conference on how to make communities more sustainable brought delegates from around the world to Salt Lake City Aug. 25-28. Among those attending the 68th United Nations Civil Society Conference (UNCSC) was Judge Memorial Catholic High School senior Erica Strand. Strand served as a delegate of Salt Lake City Youth, attending discussions and workshops hosted by leaders from around the globe.
“It is important for all of us, as global citizens, to build more sustainable lives, so that my generation may inhabit the same world we grew up in,” Strand said. “These are not single-nation issues, nor single-party issues. These are human issues.”
The United Nations has committed itself to 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to attain by 2030. The major SDGs discussed at the conference were No Poverty; Quality Education; Gender Equality; Clean Water and Sanitation; Affordable and Clean Energy; Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure; Sustainable Cities and Communities; Climate Action; and Partnerships to Achieve the Goal.
This year the UNCSC took new strides to include youth and youth voices in discussions on these major issues. Many of the global leaders took time out of the conference to sit with youth and hear their opinions and proposed solutions to many of the problems they see daily. Strand spoke with Queen Mother Dr. Delois Blakely of Ghana, General Ramon Buenafe of the Philippines, as well as ambassadors, representatives and delegates from around the globe.
Many of the delegates picked particular SDGs to discuss at the conference. Strand shied away little from “hot topic” issues and instead discussed public policy as well as modern solutions to modern problems.
“We do not have time to wait for the politicians of the past to finally discuss the issues of today,” she said. “We the youth are the future, but we are also the now. We demand change, and we are willing to work for it.”
The issues Strand confronted were Quality Education, Gender Equality, Climate Action, and Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions. She spoke in round table discussions and asked questions of guest panelists throughout the conference.
“I believe it is my duty as a global citizen, a student, and a person of faith to speak for the voiceless and make sure we are all heard, together,” said Strand, who has advocated for STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) education throughout the Salt Lake Valley by serving as the president of JMCHS’ JudgeMent Call Robotics. Last spring her team competed in the World Championships for the FIRST Robotics Competition, where they placed 12th in their division, the highest ranking for a Utah team. Team members also spent their summer visiting every Salt Lake City Public Library to spread STEM and robotics to kids there.
“Quality education is really important to me, especially coming from a state with such a dense population of kids who do not always receive that,” Strand said. “I am really proud of my team; we have overcome a lot of economic setbacks to be where we are today, and everyone on the team works incredibly hard.”
The JudgeMent Call Robotics team is funded entirely through private donations and corporate sponsors; the cost to register for one competition is $5,000. The team has brought home six awards in the past four years, as well as completing more than 700 service hours.
Strand’s faith and the JMCHS community have influenced her global involvement.
“Being involved in your community, as well as the global stage is not always easy,” she said. “In fact, it’s usually really, really hard. It takes a lot of courage to stand up for what you believe in, but being raised with the story of how a man died for others and what he believed in has really pushed me to be an advocate for those whose voices are lost more than heard. … Judge [Memorial] has always pushed me to think about those in the world around me, I have received the gift of a fantastic education, and I have no intention of letting it go to waste.”
After graduating from Judge Memorial, Strand intends to study political science/public policy and data analysis in college. Eventually she would like to earn a PhD.
Erica Strand is a member of the Judge Memorial Catholic High School Class of 2020.