In the presence of greatness…

Our Media Undergraduate student Alice Cavellini offers this excellent personal reflection of her experience in the Great Hall…

On what initially appeared to be an ordinary Thursday afternoon, I found myself seated in the Great Hall of Bay Campus, eagerly awaiting the arrival of some very special guests. The level of excitement within me was palpable. It wasn’t until I lifted my head and saw the long-awaited guests that the reality of the situation fully sank in. Here I was, a media undergraduate student from Swansea University, attending a press conference. Not just any conference; I was sitting just a few rows away from the former First Lady, Hillary Rodham Clinton, and her husband, the former President of the United States, Bill Clinton. However, if that wasn’t enough, between them was also seated nothing less than the prime minister of Wales, Mark Drakeford. Now let’s rewind a bit…

On what initially appeared to be an ordinary Thursday afternoon, I found myself seated in the Great Hall of Bay Campus, eagerly awaiting the arrival of some very special guests. The level of excitement within me was palpable. It wasn’t until I lifted my head and saw the long-awaited guests that the reality of the situation fully sank in. Here I was, a media undergraduate student from Swansea University, attending a press conference. Not just any conference; I was sitting just a few rows away from the former First Lady, Hillary Rodham Clinton, and her husband, the former President of the United States, Bill Clinton. However, if that wasn’t enough, between them was also seated nothing less than the prime minister of Wales, Mark Drakeford. Now let’s rewind a bit…

On the 16th of November 2023, I was offered the incredible opportunity by the Media Department of Swansea University, along with other peers, to participate in a press conference featuring key speakers held in the Great Hall of Bay Campus. The distinguished guests included Prime Minister Mark Drakeford, Hillary Clinton, Bill Clinton, and, last but not least, the Vice-Chancellor of our University, Paul Boyle. However, these were the only confirmed guest appearances I knew of until then. When I discovered that I had been selected, I couldn’t contain my happiness and pride and I want to express my gratitude to this institution for helping me believe in myself and recognizing my capabilities and contributions as a student at this university.

Going back to my story. The rules were clear: business attire, taking notes, and maintaining a professional attitude. Yet, nothing could have prepared me for the rarity of such an occasion. As I met with my colleague Kornelia, spirits were high, and nerves were evident. Escorted by the staff into the newsroom before the actual event, we found ourselves just a couple of chairs away from journalists representing esteemed publications such as Wales Online, BBC, and Sky, engaging in calm conversations while sipping coffee. We speculated on the broader topics that would be discussed, utilizing every minute to deepen our research on the key speakers and make the most out of this unique opportunity.

By 2.20pm, we were all seated in the conference room. The event, introduced by Student Union Pablo Josiah, was the beginning of something I hadn’t planned for. I thought he was going to immediately introduce the entrance of the key guests of the afternoon. However, I was pleasantly surprised when a brilliant young lady was welcomed to the stage. Her name is Anna, and her story is one worth listening to.

Her Ukrainian origins are both a blessing and a curse during a terrible historical period for her country. Interviewed by Swansea University Council member Elin Rhys, Anna talked about her first impressions when the war first broke out in her hometown, Kiev, and how her feelings shifted from optimism to fear. She was angry and confused at the unfairness of circumstances. However, she directed her anger toward more pressing things, launching an organization that links refugees with people willing to host them across the country, just like she and her family did.

You can watch some of Anna’s interview here

However, Anna and her family soon had to flee the country. If leaving behind everything she had ever known up to that moment wasn’t enough, Anna had to endure a 20-hour journey on an overcrowded, dark evacuation train, slowly marching towards the border of Ukraine. Anna and her family were hosted by friends in the Czech Republic and then all around Europe, finally settling in Wales. She has nothing but good things to say about local people: “Welsh people are truly incredible. They have helped me, my mom, and so many other Ukrainians, and we are truly, truly grateful for everything they have done”.

She carried on talking about her endless passion towards subjects such as science, especially computer science, problem-solving, and physics. At only 17, she has written her own “scientific studies in physics and maths” which have won national awards. At the moment, she is attending Gower College, studying computer science, and her future is looking brighter than ever. When asked about leadership tips that helped her keep her spark lit up, Anna promptly took over, sharing wisdom which applied to such a diverse crowd: ranging from college and university students, alumni, lecturers, and much more.

This picture is from Gower College – they are naturally very proud of Anna and all she has achieved

One particular tip that will forever touch me is when she concluded her session by stating: “People overestimate every obstacle and underestimate the power of their mindset”. It meant so much to me to hear those words because as a student facing my last year of undergraduate studies, it has been hard to understand what the next steps will be for me.

As an ambitious individual, I often experience contrasting emotions between what I ideally would like to achieve and what I realistically can do, discouraging myself from going all in for my dreams and just adapting to what I think are my capabilities. The problem often lies here; when we students start looking into the world of working posssibilities, we begin dismantling any initial expectations just because, at first impact, certain requirements look too overwhelming. Instead, we should integrate such requirements into daily realistic tasks with specific timings and objectives.

Most importantly, we might not change the world in a day, but with patience, consistency, confidence, and optimism, our paths can be unlimited. So thank you, Anna, on mine and everyone’s behalf, not only for reminding us of what we should be grateful for during these hard times but also of our endless abilities.

Once Anna left the stage, the long-awaited guests, one by one, took the spotlight. The room buzzed with heartfelt applause, and that’s when the realization hit. Regardless of gender, age, and the roles of the audience, I knew that the emotions I felt united me with the rest of the room, making me feel a part of something bigger than I could have ever imagined. I truly felt included and connected as a member of this university’s community. Positive energy emanated from every direction; there was no trace of judgment or ill-natured comments—just high spirits. This is how I would best describe the setting of this experience: a simple and safe space, reflecting the relationship of this university with Mrs. Clinton—filled with nothing but knowledge, ambition, warmth, and respect for one another.

The interview covered diverse topics, including national security, the climate crisis, and collaborative efforts to create a brighter future. The Clinton’s insights, drawing from their experiences during crucial historical events and Secretary Clinton’s advocacy work, provided valuable perspectives. What I found particularly refreshing was all the guest’s commitment to truth in uncertain times, emphasizing the importance of staying informed and seeking answers.

Acknowledging the profound uncertainty of the future, particularly in the presence of influential leaders such as Vladimir Putin, emphasizes the critical importance of understanding the dynamic nature of global affairs. It underscores the need for continuous education and the refinement of our ability to discern truth in the ever-evolving landscape of the Digital Era.

During the interview, a recurring theme emphasized the importance of crafting a compelling narrative across various dimensions, including a nation’s identity, politics, and climate change. The significance of narrative construction became evident as it serves as a tool to identify faults in various aspects of society. Hilary Clinton highlighted the impact of storytelling, particularly in addressing concerns about immigration in the U.S. She noted the abstract fear of immigrants exploited for political gain, emphasizing the need to tell a better story, reform existing systems, and call out politicians thriving on anti-immigrant sentiments.

Wales serves as a model for embracing its multi-cultural DNA, providing refuge for those escaping problematic circumstances, and allowing them a chance to flourish. However, as noted by Mr. Drakeford, urgent global needs, such as peace in Ukraine and the Middle East, require further collective action. The pursuit of peace, aside from being deeply rooted in a country’s cultural values, demands a cultural revolution that extends to all aspects, fostering inclusivity and addressing the wider implications of peace globally.

 The discussion extended to the forthcoming challenges posed by the climate crisis, with migration becoming even more pressing as communities are displaced globally. Global cooperation is essential in addressing the climate crisis, exemplified by commitments such as the Welsh Government’s goal of reaching Net Zero before 2050 and the University’s commitment to achieving Net Zero by 2035. In this context, Wales stands out for its proactive approach by aligning constructive behaviour with cultural values and fostering inclusivity across all realms.

In Wales, we find ourselves in a unique position to shape our future energy sustainably. Over the past two decades, the country’s recycling rates have undergone a remarkable transformation. From recycling a mere 5%, today Wales stands as the third-best globally, second-best in Europe, and the leader in the U.K in the environmental department. This achievement is rooted in its ability to convey to individuals that every contribution in their daily lives accumulates to make a significant difference. Notably, Wales’s geographical positioning has aligned with its goals. Facing the Celtic Sea, the wind propels great energy.

As noted by Mark Drakeford, presently, “54% of the energy used last year came from renewable sources”. His forecast is that by 2030 this will be occur with a 70% conversion rate and with strategic initiatives, the vision is to achieve 100% renewable energy by 2035, capitalizing on the abundant natural resources through collaborative efforts. The Celtic Sea is a significant shared resource, fostering collaboration with Wales’s European neighbor, Ireland. This collective approach underscores the commitment to sustainable energy practices and exemplifies the positive impact that can arise through collaborative regional efforts. Mark Drakeford’s insights on Wales’s journey toward sustainable energy, reconfirms the power of storytelling in shaping perceptions and inspiring action.

As I reflect on the extraordinary series of events that unfolded during the press conference, I am reminded of the profound impact of storytelling across different realms. From the unexpected journey of a courageous Ukrainian refugee, Anna, to the insightful discussions about global challenges with influential figures like Hillary and Bill Clinton, Mark Drakeford, and vice chancellor Paul Boyle, the power of narrative emerged as a unifying force. The storytelling aspect transcended mere information delivery; it became a conduit for empathy, understanding, and shared purpose. In the grand tapestry of our experiences, storytelling acts as the thread that weaves together diverse perspectives, fostering connection, unity, and a collective commitment to a brighter future. As we continue to navigate the complexities of our world, the importance of storytelling persists—a timeless tool for improvement, fostering collaboration, and encouraging meaningful actions.