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Student Voice: Praise, reflections and hope

pict0004toni-rally1.JPGFriday was a day of action for student MetroCards! At noon, an estimated 600 students walked out of school for a rally organized by the Urban Youth Collaborative, and were joined by public officials, Transportation Workers Union members, and other adults. And at 4:30 about 100 students and TWU workers marched over the Brooklyn Bridge with a string of 3,000 expired student MetroCards that were given by students to the NYC Student Union to show support for the cause.

I am pleased and proud to be leaving with this news. That's right... leaving... it is that happy and sad time for me. As I prepare to graduate and lose my identity as a public high school student, it is incredibly warming to know that I am leaving our city in the hands of such passionate students.

When I started my work with the NYC Student Union it was hard to not be overwhelmed by the apathy in the city, and the lack of effort by education activists to include youth in their work. I found myself at education policy meetings where I was the only student, despite the fact that students would be the ones most affected by the issue at hand. And now... well, sometimes I'm still frustrated by the apathy of my fellow students, but I feel hopeful.

I've been so inspired by the other members of the NYC Student Union, and by students all around the city doing incredible things, and I've learned far more from my work on education reform than anything I've been told in a classroom. I'd like to leave with a couple of the most important things I've learned from my time as a student in this city.

1) I've learned, to take from Urban Word NYC's mission, that students can and must speak for themselves. Those who have the power to make decisions should ask for and listen to our opinions. And those who are fighting for us-- such as adult-run education reform groups -- should fight with us. Groups like the Student Union also cannot presume to speak for everyone. Rather, we are accountable to all our fellow students and their desires. Our MetroCard campaign has been one of our most action-filled because others in the city were with us and it wasn't simply an issue that Student Union members felt was important.

2) I've learned much more from the Student Union than from any of my teachers, and this has taught me the importance of spending time on activities other than school. I would like to leave everyone with the idea that there is much to be gained from studying less sometimes and exploring all the exciting and enriching things that teenagers in NYC can do. With the excessive focus that many families seem to have on "getting in" (and you know what I mean), I fear this is something many people have lost sight of.

3) I've learned that everything you do truly does count, and that it is important to speak up even when it seems like no one is listening. A couple of weeks ago I was at a tiny protest against cuts to youth service programs like The Door and LGBT centers. There were about ten of us standing in the rain shouting with no media of any kind, and I was feeling a bit disheartened. In the middle of it, a group of elementary school kids walked by with their teacher. She stopped and had us explain to the students what we were doing. At the end she said: "See kids? This is what democracy looks like." I realized that what we were doing was important, whether or not anyone in power was listening.

And on that note, I hope to leave having inspired some younger students. I hope that some freshmen saw me running around my school collecting MetroCards, or that some kids saw us marching across the bridge, and will someday take up the fight themselves. After all, come next week, the fight is no longer truly mine.

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