Imagine receiving an award and then discovering it has been established in your name.
That’s what happened to Julianna Roche, a senior at Wildwood Catholic High School, who received the first ever Award for Excellence at the annual Student Leadership Conference on Development at the United Nations. Beginning in 2019, future recipients will receive the award in Julianna’s name.
Julianna’s connection with the United Nations began when her history teacher invited her to attend a model U.N. Day program at Saint Joseph High School in Hammonton in the fall of her freshman year.
“We were ‘thrown to the wolves,’” she said, describing how she and other participants were given topics to research and present by day’s end. Presentations were made via video conference with staff from the U.N. and Global Education Motivators (GEM), an organization founded by educators in 1981 whose mission of “bringing the world to the classroom” supports the work and mission of the U.N.
Mistaking her for a junior or senior, GEM invited Julianna to attend their leadership conference at the U.N. later that school year.
Now a four-year veteran, Julianna has collaborated with students from around the world to research and recommend plans to achieve the U.N.’s goals for sustainability.
Unlike the one-day model U.N. program, students learn their topic in October, then jointly present research findings in February and a youth plan of action in the spring. In a supervisory role, Julianna has worked with peers exploring migration, innovation and education related to the 2017-18 assigned topic of climate change.
“International relations is absolutely fascinating to me,” said Julianna, who intends to pursue a career in a related field.
“There are still people dying of hunger and of diseases that, in first world countries, we’ve eradicated. … At the U.N. you are surrounded by meetings going on about the treatment of women in sub-Saharan African countries or clean water sanitation in Rio de Janeiro. Things we take for granted,” she said.
Like many seniors, Julianna is still waiting for college acceptance decisions. She hopes to be in New York City, where she can accept an internship position with the U.N.
For students seeking similar experience, Julianna suggested, “Get involved with a model U.N. club. If you don’t have one, make a voice for yourself in your community. Start researching and developing an opinion on matters that are important to you — and opportunities like this will find you.”
The leadership award was presented by GEM director Wayne Jacoby in the company of fellow students at the United Nations. Julianna said the award itself came as a great surprise.
About learning the award was in her name, she said, “I hoped I was worthy for future student leaders to receive an award in my name. The truth is that I’m not doing anything at all exceptional. I’m simply doing what needs to be done.”
Mary Beth Peabody is communications and marketing Manager, Office of Catholic Schools, Diocese of Camden.