On January 22nd, the Centre Sheraton Ballroom filled for the McMUN Opening Ceremony. With over 1500 delegates, predominantly from North America, and over 650 staff members from McGill University, the 2015 McMUN Conference is McGill’s largest to date. Students from Harvard, Ottawa, and CEGEPs such as Marianopolis, Dawson, and John-Abbott have come together to discuss and debate various political issues and create stronger relations between different countries, unions, and organizations.
The ceremony started off with Ameya Pendse, President and CEO of the International Relations Students Association of McGill (IRSAM), welcoming delegates and worthy guests to the conference and introducing the crowd to IRSAM. IRSAM has hosted McMUN every year since 1989, and is the largest student group of McGill. IRSAM offers students a neutral forum to express their interest in international affairs, and introduces them to the United Nations at a local, national, and international level. One of the central initiatives of IRSAM is McMUN, which is ranked as the #1 Model UN conference in North America. McMUN promotes an awareness of different nations around the world, and associated policies, inclinations, and political issues.
After an entertaining speech and introduction by McMUN Secretary-General Ryan Mitton was the night’s keynote speaker, Payam Akhavan, a former UN prosecutor and successful criminal lawyer. Payam had in fact spoken at McMUN ten years prior, in 2005, and acknowledged the fact that the world is a very different place today. He emphasized the necessity of a Global Forum, to discuss problems and learn the art of diplomacy. Payam engaged with the crowd on a personal level by poking fun at his student days as a delegate in MUN. He jokingly said that were he Secretary-General, he would drop the term “Secretary” and simply be referred to as “General”. The Security Council, rather than wearing blue helmets, would wear ninja masks. The Council would be called the Council of Elrond, and whenever they didn’t want a motion to pass he would say “you shall not pass”.
Payam then moved on to more serious issues, and asserted that the world we witness is a result of leadership, or a lack thereof. As a graduate of Harvard Law School, he was confident, idealistic, but ultimately naive, and Payam emphasizes that there exists an undeniable difference between speculation and reality. On his first mission, Payam was dropped straight in the field. Therein he encountered the effects of genocide and was met with homeless families, destroyed villages, rape survivors, and lost children – which summed up to a very humbling experience. Moving from such an experience, to conferences in Geneva in which politically correct euphemisms are used to express such tragedies was a disconcerting experience.
Payam did not obscure the history of the UN, and acknowledged the UN’s mistakes, such as its withdrawal during the Rwandan Genocide. Payam asserts that such an event makes a mockery of smug leaders who claim they would never allow for the Holocaust to repeat itself, yet allowed for such horror to take place. Saying that, “Violence flows from the weakness of men,” Payam emphasized the grim reality of the downtrodden, who must be taken into account in an honest conversation. He stressed that leadership is not about VIP status, celebrity, charisma, control, or wealth, but that it’s about empathy, and the willingness and ability to feel the pain of others. True leaders labour in silence out of love, care, and compassion for people.
Marta Canneri followed Payam’s speech, and announced the chosen charity of the conference. McMUN will be donating to APU Girls on Move in Malawi. This organization gives a full scholarship to every girl attending, and the staff is all female. It takes a stance on the difference between male and female access to education. Sass asserted that such choices not only change the student’s life but also that of the entire village, by promoting a culture of knowledge, leadership, and change.
Marta gave the final speech of the night, and Ryan returned to announced the official start of the 2015 McMUN conference. Students left the ballroom feeling inspired and motivated, and ready to engage with international issues with openness but while maintaining a general awareness of the dismal reality which lies outside cozy university headquarters. Students from Illinois raved that Payal was the best keynote speaker they had encountered among all the MUN conferences they’d participated in. A student from Arizona also said that she was very impressed with the speaker. What stuck with her the most is the story of the “unsung hero”, and those who deserve to have their voices heard in an honest global conversation. Overall, the opening ceremony proved to be a motivating and stimulating start to the 2015 McMUN conference.
-Kathleen Rose Kennedy & Myra Sivaloganathan