How ‘Student in the Spotlight’ Levis Maina Nderitu met Chelsea Clinton.
During the opening of the academic year, Levis Maina Nderitu was chosen as Student in the Spotlight. This Kenyan student from the International Institute of Social Studies (ISS) is the founder of the Sullivan Reed Society, whose main activities are aimed at promoting the inclusion of the LGBT+ community. He travelled to Chicago to participate in the Clinton Global Initiative University, meant to engage the next generation of leaders on college campuses around the world. We called Levis to ask him about his experience, inspiration – and meeting Chelsea Clinton.
A friend of Levis posted an advert of the Clinton Global Initiative University, a meeting where students, university representatives, topic experts, and celebrities come together to discuss and develop solutions to global challenges. Students create their own ‘Commitments to Action’ that address issues on campus, in local communities, or around the world, the website states. Levis explains: ‘The idea is that students make a commitment to make a difference in the world. My commitment is to create a digital platform for corporations to connect lgbt+ talent in Kenya. They can offer mentorship to lgbt+ youth, who face a high unemployment rate, to bring them to the workforce, offer them networks and improve social mobility.’
So how did he experience his time there? Levis talks enthusiastically about his first time in the Midwest, and his tour of the city and the university. The conference opened with Chelsea and Bill Clinton. ‘I sat so close!’ Levis tells me excitedly. ‘Bill talked about inclusive tribalism. People group themselves in different categories, based on social status, race, etc. Bill’s point was how important it is for these different tribes to work together in an inclusive way. Because diverse groups make better decisions than homogenous ones.’ And, Levis adds, ‘the importance of reaching out to someone with a different position than yours and to reach common ground. We have so much more in common than we have differences.’
Gatekeeper of your own truth
Another interesting topic was a panel on freedom of speech. The CEO of Snapchat attended the conference to talk about their endeavour to encourage young people to go out and vote and how social media companies are getting politically involved, and how they use their voice and power. Levis: ‘What I’ve learnt from that panel was that each of us has a responsibility to guard our own truths. In an age of alternative truths, be a gatekeeper of your own truth.’
Levis wanted a front seat at the next panel with Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton, he tells me excitedly, but he was a little let down by Hillary’s presence. ‘When she came in, everyone was excited, applauding and standing up. But she did not wave for more than 10 seconds before sitting down. I felt like the audience wanted more from her.’ He was not totally enthusiastic about her talk either: ‘She is very smart and uses complicated terminology, but I felt like she could have come down to the level of the people more, like Bill did. To connect with the audience with simpler language.’ But it wasn’t all bad: ‘What I liked was when she gave personal examples. Like when she stated that you can’t plan in advance what you’ll become. I wish she would’ve shared more personal stories.’
Catch me trying
Levis recaps what he learnt from this final panel: ‘Hillary reflected on her journey a little bit and told us to occupy ourselves with the lasting things in life, like relationships, family, friends and leading a purposeful life. Nobody at their deathbed wishes they spent more time at the office.’ In closing, Bill Clinton stated: ‘Always get caught trying.’ ‘That’s going to be my new hashtag,’ Levis exclaims. ‘#catchmetrying!’
Sunday came with another highlight for Levis. ‘We did a day of action and I got to meet Chelsea!’ Levis went to a school in the south side of Chicago, where a group of less than 20 people helped underprivileged kids with art projects. ‘We were helping the kids and guess who comes in! Chelsea! She comes to our table and takes a group picture. And then I decided to talk to her and take a picture with her. I told Chelsea that her mother has been an amazing role model and how inspiring their work with the Clinton Global Initiative is. We talked about the work I do in Kenya and how the call to public service has inspired me with the commitment I made. When she left she asked me for a hug. After that moment I couldn’t paint anymore! I was shaking but I could barely hold a brush. That was a huge blessing.’
What does Levis take away from CGI U to bring back with him to Rotterdam? ‘I want to refine my commitment made at the beginning of the experience and share that with the international office of EUR so we can see how we can work together in making this commitment a reality. In the United States universities support their students in their projects, helping with funding and connecting them to the right people. They realise that while education is important, community builds leaders. At Erasmus University I think we can do better and support what students do outside of their studies. This can be used to market the university as well. The Netherlands is really appreciated in the US. I really think it is a privilege to live and study at EUR and I already look back with gratitude at my time spent here.’