Mater Dei Prep seniors Khalil Elamin and Alexis Lombardo were part of a virtual United Nations conference on the International Day of Peace. Courtesy photo
Mater Dei Prep seniors Khalil Elamin and Alexis Lombardo were part of a virtual United Nations conference on the International Day of Peace. Courtesy photo

Primatologist Jane Goodall has advice for young people wanting to make a change in the world: Ask yourself, “What am I passionate about?”

“Think what you can do locally. Get together with friends. Roll up your sleeves. Get out there … see that you’re making a difference. Then realize that in other countries, other towns, other cities, there are young people doing exactly the same thing,” Goodall said for the United Nations’ International Day of Peace observance Sept. 17.

The famous scientist was part of a U.N. online student conference panel discussion that included cellist Yo-Yo Ma, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres – and two students from Mater Dei Prep’s Emerging Global Leaders Institute. Established in 1981, the conference theme for this year was “Shaping Peace Together.”

Khalil Elamin and Alexis Lombardo, seniors in the Middletown high school, were among the few youth from across the world selected to present their ideas on making the world a more peaceful place.

“I need the U.N. to take concrete measures to promote justice and inequality and make sure that institutions are strong and accountable so that I and other youth can thrive without fear of injustice or discrimination,” Elamin said in addressing the secretary-general.

In response, Guterres said he believes young people have been at the forefront of some of the most important mass movements in recent times, such as intergenerational justice, and violence against women and girls.

“I fully count on your generation … and encourage the youth movements in your country to be on the front lines, fighting for gender equality, the end of racism and for climate protection,” he said.

Lombardo, herself a musician, wanted to speak to Yo-Yo Ma about how music influences people in their daily lives, especially during COVID-19 since people have been isolated.

“As a performer, what do you believe are the key elements in using music for peaceful change in society, and how can we make this message universal?” she asked.

“I think so much about the purpose and meaning of music,” the internationally known cellist said. “One of the things I think that music does – it convenes people. You give music to your friends, ‘Here’s my favorite song; I like you; I would like you to listen to this song.’ It starts a one-on-one communication.”

Lombardo said she could relate, explain that during the coronavirus, she has been delving more into writing music and playing guitar. “I have been tapping into my emotions more through music, and realized it is really helpful to everyday life.”

Both students said they were grateful and honored to be youth representatives for the Emerging Global Leaders Program and Pathways to Peace, a non-governmental organization (NGO) that often partners with the school’s program. Mater Dei students have a long history of presenting with PTP at the U.N. in New York.

“Being picked to do something like this truly gives me the confidence that I will be able to take on everyday tasks,” Lombardo said. “Being a part of it [U.N. outreach] gives me the faith to work harder and to try to impact the world for peace.”

Added Elamin, “I am going to take this experience with me for the rest of my life. I’m just glad that we got to voice our opinions to people in power. My mom has always told me my voice is a tool. I’m glad I got to use my voice today.”