UN diplomat encourages students to change the world
Fourteen seventh grade students got a jolt of girl power when the Panamanian ambassador to the United Nations, Laura Flores, stopped by St. Ignatius Middle School on May 18 for a special visit.
“I want to make sure girls’ voices are heard in the new development agenda, ” said Flores, addressing the students in a second floor classroom at the school on Manida Street.
This wasn’t the girls’ first discourse with diplomacy. In April, they attended the opening day of the Commission on the Status of Women at the UN. All of the girls’ activities have been as NYC Junior Ambassadors, a program out of the Mayor’s Office for International Affairs. The program aims to engage seventh graders in schools around the city to become involved as global citizens.
The 14 girls, clad in matching blue-and-white plaid skirts, collared white shirts, navy knee socks and blue cardigans, were nervous and hesitant, but a few of the bravest raised their hands to ask their visitor questions.
“What did you like to do in Panama?” asked a girl with short dark black hair and a shy smile.
Flores’ face lit up as she recalled her teenage years—long days spent rollerskating around El Dorado, a bustling neighborhood in Panama City. She told the girls that when she was their age she was just learning English, “Which is why I speak with a bit of an accent – something my son loves to remind me.” She shared stories about her childhood and coming of age at 15, just a few years older than the girls seated around her.
“Fifteen is an important age in the Latin culture. It’s a coming-of-age party – that’s when you start meeting boys. And they gave you some champagne to toast the 15-year-old girls,” said Flores.
Flores urged the girls to follow their passions and not feel intimidated by a power structure that is still largely male.
“It can be scary as a woman. It’s never easy with all the men around,” she said. “I might have been a little hesitant and scared, but you have to work hard to overcome that.”
Student Melanie Mena said that seeing the ambassador made her aware that she can impact others.
“It showed me that we are leaders and can continue to be leaders in the future,” said Mena. “We can help change the world.”
The girls’ teacher, Colin McGinnis, said that the ambassador showed that by persevering they could create lasting change.
“It was inspiring to meet and hear from a woman who is not very different from my students. She is working to positively change the world around her,” said McGinnis. “I feel that she is someone that they can strive to be like in the future.”