Education for Democratic Societies

This is part of a series of posts by recipients of the 2021 Career Services Summer Funding Grant. We’ve asked funding recipients to reflect on their summer experiences and talk about the industries in which they spent their summer. You can read the entire series here.

This entry is by Gabriella Thomas, COL ’22

One of the first phrases of the charter of the Organization of American States is, “the historic mission of America is to offer to man a land of liberty and a favorable environment for the development of his personality and the realization of his just aspirations.” These powerful words ring true to the mind and heart and are particularly poignant in the midst of a global pandemic and widespread social unrest.

The Organization of American States (OAS) is the world’s oldest international regional organization. It aims to promote democracy, peace, and justice through international cooperation and collaboration. Currently, there are 35 member states representing North and South America as well as the Caribbean. This summer, I had the opportunity to work with a representative from the OAS’s Secretariat for Integral Development on a project bringing together the OAS, Penn’s Netter Center, and Penn’s Center for Latin American and Latino Studies. The project is aimed at creating a network of representatives from higher education associations throughout Latin America and the Caribbean to discuss the central role of education in strengthening democracy and to promote initiatives to the same end.

Through conducting research, aiding in the creation and translation of documents, and communicating with representatives of universities throughout the Americas, I was able to develop a deeper understanding and appreciation of the crucial role of education in ensuring just, equitable, and safe societies. I was able to attend meetings with global experts, aid in the planning of an upcoming conference, and experience the path of diplomacy through cooperation firsthand. It has been deeply rewarding to be able to contribute to an initiative that in turn contributes to the overall mission of ensuring liberty and a society in which individuals can realize their aspirations.

Coming from a family that immigrated to the United States 14 years ago, the promise of opportunity and the desire for self-improvement and realization is one that often weighs heavily on my heart. Particularly at a time in which our society is struggling in many ways, from health inequity to racial intolerance, to economic struggles, I believe that the mission to strengthen democracy in our society and equip citizens to not only recognize social injustice but to be able to contribute to ending it is crucial. In the future, I hope to work as a human rights lawyer and contribute to creating a society in which each person can strive for their aspirations and exist in a community that values justice, democracy, and liberty for all. This experience has undoubtedly aided in my understanding of what it truly means for a society to espouse democratic values, and the importance of collaboration, cross-cultural understanding, and intellectual openness in that process.

The funding that I received from Career Services aided heavily in my ability to embark on this endeavor and fully devote my summer to it. I am truly grateful for my experience this summer, and I believe that I will carry the lessons I learned throughout my career and the rest of my life.

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