May 14, 2013

Ronan Farrow

The coming generation is ideally suited to make changes in the world. What those changes will be and how they will come about have yet to be determined, said Ronan Farrow, who spoke to Culver Academies students during an all-school meeting and a classroom session on May 8.

Farrow is uniquely qualified to discuss youth issues. Currently a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University, he is an American human rights advocate, freelance journalist, and former government official, having worked on youth issues in the State Department and United Nations. His visit was made possible by the Class of 1962 Student Enrichment Fund.

He graduated from Yale Law School after his graduation from Bard College at the age of 15. At Cambridge, Farrow, now 25, is completing a book he started before joining the State Department and founding the Office of Global Youth Issues. He is the son of Mia Farrow and Woody Allen.

“Our generation has inherited unprecedented challenges,” he told students. Those include the recession, injustice, oppression, nuclear threat, oil dependency, and tribal strife.  But, Farrow added, this generation is also uniquely qualified to meet those challenges.

“We’re brash, disobedient, and self-absorbed,” he said, adding those attributes and attitudes equip this generation to make the needed changes. Farrow pointed out that this generation has a willingness to accept risk and uncertainty, knowing that “we may fail, but we have time to try again.”

This generation’s lack of patience also gives it a sense of urgency. “Don’t be afraid to be impatient,” he added. During his morning session, Farrow said that impatience is what helped drive the Arab Spring. But it is also behind the insurgency problems in Africa, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.

After meeting young people involved in the insurgency, Farrow said he found they really weren’t tied to any ideology, but angry and frustrated because they weren’t being heard. But State Department officials weren’t talking with them.

These young people have no jobs or any way to make their voices heard within their community. Frustrated because they wanted to do something that matters, ”they turned to violence in the absence of opportunity.” His office developed a small grant program that awarded up to $10,000 to the best ideas these groups could develop. It was effective because it provided opportunities for those young people to affect change, he said.

This is an example of using new ideas to break through old obstacles. Farrow said looking for solutions outside the box is another trait of this generation. You must realize you need to talk to more than “the same six people” who show up for your called meetings. But you must do so with humility, Farrow emphasized.  Admit that you don’t know it all. The most successful organizations and people in the countries he visited were those who “went with what the locals told them” would work. They welcomed information with “open arms.”

Also, explore every avenue possible to achieve. He has written several op-ed pieces, including several that have gotten rejected. And don’t discount social media. Twitter and Facebook have proven to be powerful tools in supplying real-time information and passion. People, himself included, just need to “balance the humor with the humanity.”

And don’t be concerned if you are not sure what cause you want throw your energies behind, he told students. “Not knowing right now can work to your advantage.”

During the morning session, Farrow said, he still wasn’t sure what he wants to do. “I have the philosophy that I want to keep as many options open as possible.” That allows him the opportunity to make an impact along any of those avenues.

And making an impact is the key, he said. You can never tell how many lives will be affected. Remember, there is always a domino effect, even when you make a difference “in your little corner of the world.”

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Posted in Academic Alumni Culver Academies Student Life
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