Clinton Global Initiative University: From the Eyes of a Young Montanan

By: Peregrine Frissell

GLI student Peregrine Frissell and others at the CGIU Day of Action gather together for a quick photo.

Nothing is quite as exciting to a young student as an idea. It represents self-made opportunity in a myriad of ways: a chance to help others, make yourself relevant in an often intimidating world, and gain traction in an area you feel passionate about.  Through support from the Global Leadership Initiative at the University of Montana I was able to attend the Clinton Global Initiative University at Arizona State University at the end of March and bring my idea a little closer to reality.

The Clinton Global Initiative University is a conference sponsored by the Clinton Foundation with the purpose of bringing together college students from around the world to exchange and discuss various ideas. In fact, the application is 100% the pitching of your own idea and how you plan on pursuing it. The Clinton Foundation, to foster motivation in their own way, called these ideas “Commitments to Action.” There were around 1,200 students from all 50 states and many countries around the world at the convention. I was the only student from Montana.

My idea was a sustainability blog – which I dubbed UniversityDotEarth – with the charge of giving universities with sustainability initiatives across the world a place to compare their own unique ideas, hurdles, and innovations so that we may all learn from each other’s mistakes and triumphs. In this age we are seeing exciting movements such as fossil-fuel divestment and carbon neutrality campaigns, and they are all taking place within a similar system but with unnecessarily fractured populations. There is no reason students at institutions everywhere can’t be critiquing and helping each other on a regular basis and that was the premise of my own Commitment to Action.

The conference revolved between skill sessions to instruct us on how to most effectively pursue our Commitments to Action and panel discussion with various experts within many of the various fields our projects focused on. I attended two very interesting skill sessions: one on using social media effectively to identify audiences and promote your project and the other on the advent of the mobile market money in developing countries and how it is creating aid. The panel discussions contained a number of individuals I felt privileged to hear talk, including Bill, Hillary, and Chelsea Clinton.

The peak of my trip, however, was not hearing an ex-president speak (this is notable, because Bill Clinton is actually on my Wall of Inspiration). It came in the first panel, which included Jimmy Wales, a co-founder of Wikipedia. Hearing his ideas about the media and freedom of information as a young journalist was eye-opening, and should shape my studies for the rest of my life. He was on the stage with John McCain, Bill Clinton, and Manal Al-Sharif, the Saudi woman who posted a video online of herself driving that went viral after being tossed in to jail in a nation where women driving is prohibited. The rich and unguarded perspective that Wales was able to give in contrast to the politicians and others around him was something I admired deeply, and reaffirmed my feeling that there is no higher call for me than journalism.

I was extremely fortunate to receive the support from the Global Leadership Initiative to attend this conference. I am excited to invest the skills I learned into something meaningful in the coming months so that I can do my part to the university and wider world that has given me so much thus far. It really is a good day to be a Grizzly.