The following editorial was submitted by Clayton Southerly. Clayton is the Secretary-General of the Twenty-Eighth Session of the William & Mary High School Model United Nations hosted at the College of William & Mary. The opinions expressed in this editorial are his own and do not necessary reflect the opinions of Unmoderated Caucus or William & Mary High School Model United Nations.
It is easy to view Model UN as a competition to be won. Committees are games, topics are innings, and resolutions are hits that other peoples’ votes propel into the outfield. What matters are the competition and the resulting awards and team rank. This perspective is flawed.
I see the argument over whether or not to present awards as dominated by extremes. The side for the practice says not doing so leads to a generation of whiners where no one tries if everyone is rewarded. The side against claims that offering awards leads to cutthroat “gavel hunting,” so none should be given. Both place emphasis on gavels as the motivating factor behind participation. This is misguided.
Model UN is an educational exercise. It is a forum by which we educate ourselves and each other about today’s issues, yesterday’s controversies, and tomorrow’s threats. The real value to a delegate is not an award; it is the knowledge and experience gained. Now on my seventh secretariat, I have seen my staff churn out reams of paper in background guides and crisis simulation preparation. Host schools conduct extensive research and they do not do so to pay lip service to the fact that Model UN is classified as an academic activity. Well-written position papers are required for awards consideration at William & Mary because we believe in better-prepared delegates. Significant knowledge of the issues matters because elevating our dialogue is truly important, and much more so than bragging rights.
I attend a college that prides itself as the Alma Mater of the Nation. Shaping the American experiment is what we have done and what we continue to do. Our alumni that founded the United States believed that an educated electorate was vital to the republic. Idealistic as that sounds, why does a trophy take precedence over the ability to cast an informed vote in a democracy whose foreign policy is essential on the world stage? What other award is necessary than the knowledge that we are doing our part by preparing for our civic duty?
I concede that competition can spark greater fervor and that there is value in recognizing achievement. Conferences are right to confer awards upon delegates that perform well and upon schools whose teams are stocked with them. I have enjoyed presenting such honors. However, that is not why I choose to devote my efforts to this activity. I do so because I believe in a generation versed in global problems and focused on their solutions.
It is also true that one can take great pride in being on a team that is “nationally ranked.” Celebrating a team effort is worth doing, and we do so in the conferences with which I am involved. However, the recognition of achievement is not the most valuable aspect. What is worth much more is the informed discussion of foreign policy or the dynamics of international organizations late at night over coffee. It is the realization that we are intellectually curious and understand how our place in the world corresponds with the overall picture. The pride we have in our teams comes less from hoisting a victorious flag than from the bond we share in having expanded each other’s horizons.
So display the gavels on your bookshelf – I still do. But understand that in a few years, they may join the baseball All-Star trophy in a box in your parents’ attic. What stays with you is the ability to engage others in educated discourse and cast your opinion being sure that it is your own. That should be the focus of this exercise. That is the point.