Food insecurity, control of space, and arctic trade routes -- not usually topics of conversation for high school students, yet they are the challenges my generation will inherit, and what better way to combat them than global cooperation. That is the purpose of Model United Nations conferences spanning the globe, bringing students -- our future policy makers and innovative peace advocates -- together to simulate real United Nations discussions.

Through parliamentary procedure, avid research and negotiations, delegates strive to pass resolutions in their designated organs (like the Economic and Social Council and the Human Rights Council) while accurately representing their chosen country.

The pandemic has forced many events held in bustling conference centers to be canceled, and Model U.N. is no exception. While the lively debate from deliberation rooms and the chatter of delegates finishing the last clauses to working papers has largely been silenced, the Twin Cities conference this year has transitioned to a virtual format, as many globally are, opening the sometimes costly experience up to anyone with a device and a drive to advocate for a country in today’s most pressing issues.

Travel, another barrier to many delegates, has also been eliminated by virtual conferences, giving students an opportunity to participate in conferences held in other states or countries like THIMUN in Qatar. Even some university-level conferences like the Model U.N. of the University of Chicago have let high school students step in and have their voices heard on a larger stage.

My first year at Model U.N. was a whirlwind of confusion and new experiences, but that is exactly what makes finishing a challenging conference worth it. The goal many first-time delegates tackle is going up to the podium to speak -- a milestone that, once broken, opens up a world of possibilities.

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I met that first milestone at 2 a.m. on the second night of my first conference when I was woken in the middle of the night for an emergency meeting of the Security Council as the delegate representing Senegal. The crisis we were tasked with was relocating a group of displaced people. Nervous and unprepared to discuss this topic, I researched on the spot, but still didn’t know how to enter the conversation. The President of the council took notice and passed me a sticky note asking: What does your country think?

An invitation to speak, a reminder of the importance of my country’s voice on the small council, was all I needed to push aside the intimidation of more experienced delegates and speak for Senegal.

Effective speaking, compromising, listening, and being respectful of differing opinions are all qualities Model U.N. perpetuates and delegates pick up after only a few hours of problem-solving on a committee. During my second conference, on the Legal Committee within the General Assembly, I came ready to advocate for and ended up co-authoring a resolution on the topic of health conditions in refugee camps, defining aspects related to human rights, sanitation, and education, then offering guidelines and aid suggestions. Later, I asked questions in front of the entire General Assembly, challenging the authors of another resolution that didn’t consider countries like the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the one I was representing.

Whether it is cramming into an elevator with 30 other teen delegates throwing around ideas to enforce election security, researching international borders over a hurried lunch between meetings, or last year’s virtual conference discussing the global waste crisis in breakout rooms, Model U.N. is a microcosm of current events and student brain power. Every conference is an eye-opening experience that empowers delegates to be conscious citizens and future global ambassadors.

Grace Pignolo is a senior at Mayo High School. Send comments on teen columns to Jeff Pieters,