Throwback Thursday: The Challenge of Modern Democracy Conference


Date: Sept. 4, 2014

When I was a student at the University of Chicago, I organized a conference with one of my closest friends, Renato Mariotti. It was called the Challenge of Modern Democracy Conference.

It took two years worth of planning, but eventually we amassed a group of world leaders, scholars, and students from all over the world -- including two former prime ministers, a national news anchor, and a college president -- who descended upon the University of Chicago for our conference.

The idea began when Renato and I were talking about the fundamental questions of our time, and how our generation could and should be part of that conversation. From there, planning the conference was a humbling experience that began with us asking the university's provost for $500,000. Of course, we were immediately shot down, so instead, we devoted ourselves to raising money -- $120,000.

One of my proudest moments leading up to the conference came when I read CNN Anchor Bernard Shaw's response to our invitation: "I would be a derelict citizen of the world if I did not accept." We also heard back personally from many of those who had to decline our invitation, including Desmond Tutu, Steve Jobs, and Vaclav Havel.

But what I ultimately got out of the conference was something much deeper than my awe over corresponding with people I had long admired. Discussing ideas with our attendees taught me about what it means to be a citizen of the world. And when I thought about it afterward, I realized that if two sophomores could put together an international conference, anyone can make a huge difference in our country.

I see how true that is every time I talk to the fellows and volunteers on this campaign. Their passion and dedication to our community and to changing Washington is, just as planning that conference was, humbling. Each day, it reminds me that when people come together with passion and with a goal, their potential is limitless.