For the past five years, Upper School students have organized a community forum known as the Greenway Symposium. The event brings together people from Charlottesville and Central Virginia to share fascinating ideas, engage in dialogue, and inspire new perspectives on topics relevant to the community. Here, Zach Ashby ’21 reflects on his experiences organizing the event.
Organizing the Greenway Symposium was one of the most fulfilling activities of my high school career because of the greatly unprecedented difficulties that came with the process of organizing this event. I came into the organization expecting a very smooth process, envisioning myself sending a few emails and then finalizing the speakers list months before the date of the event. However, there was much more to this process.
We started the process by thinking of a common theme for the event. In past years the Greenway Symposium has had themes like “big ideas” and “altruism,” and this year we knew that we wanted a very focused and creative theme. After weeks of deliberation we finally landed on a mission statement: exploring the sources of conflict and discovering effective resolutions at all levels, from personal to international. This theme appealed to us because it was much more focused than years before, allowing us to attract a specific crowd and pinpoint specific speakers. In addition to that, this theme also had the ability to encompass many different disciplines, from science to politics to history.
After we decided on a theme, it was time to move into inviting speakers. We started by asking teachers and friends about whom they saw fit to speak during this event. We also began to compile a list of speakers who we knew were part of the U.Va. community or part of academic communities close to Charlottesville who could contribute to the event. From this list we chose three people who we wanted at our event and wrote invitations to send them via email. Very hopeful to be done programming in early September, we sent out the invitations hoping for a positive response. All three speakers were busy. So, we decided to send out another wave of three emails. Similarly, all three of the speakers were busy. This process was repeated around five more times until we found ourselves in early October without a single speaker for the event.
A little heart broken, and very tired of sending out emails to people, we decided to reach out to Kevin Levin, a former St. Anne’s-Belfield School teacher who lives in the Boston area as well as to Dr. Deborah Lawrence, a professor at U.Va. Gladly, both of these truly amazing speakers were able to give up some of their time to come support our event, Kevin Levin even making a trip down from Boston to come speak. Now that we had secured two amazing speakers it was time to find our final speaker. As part of a tip from a professor at U.Va. I looked at the Woodrow Wilson Center’s list of experts on conflict resolution and peace-building and we were very lucky to find Mr. Ricardo Zúñiga, a researcher at the Wilson Center commissioned by the U.S. State Department.
With three speakers confirmed to come speak at the event it was time for the final stage of planning: advertising. After sending out loads of emails in the preliminary stages of planning we thought the process of writing and sending emails was over, but advertising required even more emails than before. We emailed professors, teachers, students, past attendees, and more, encouraging them to come to the event. We also commissioned Gresh Chapman ‘21, a student here at School, to design a poster for our event which we proceeded to hang up around school and around town.
All this hard work that I have detailed ended up yielding an extremely successful event. Each one of our speakers showcased intriguing, engaging presentations and our audience, containing around 150 people, was similarly engaged in learning more about conflict resolution. However, not only the audience learned valuable lessons from this event, so did myself and the other students who organized it. We learned a multitude of skills including digital marketing, cold emailing, how to host a visitor, and many more.
On behalf of the Greenway Symposium organizing team I would say that this was one of the most successful Greenway Symposiums yet, and we cannot wait to get started on planning for next year!
Pictured L - R: Sam Gruber '20, Ari Krupnick '20, Kevin Levin, Ricardo Zúñiga, Deborah Lawrence, Mary Holland Mason '22, Zhiqi Liu '21, Zach Ashby '21.