Global Youth Ambassadors on #UpForSchool: Alexandria Fitzgerald
Up for School or #upforschool campaign
A World at School hosted the #UpForSchool Petition and the September Forum in New York during the United Nations General Assembly. In a week-long series, four of our Global Youth Ambassadors and a member of the Youth Advocacy Group are writing blogs about their experiences while attending these and other events.
By Alexandria Fitzgerald, A World at School Global Youth Ambassador from United States of America
What could possibly relate the words Malala Yousafzai, concussion and education? The answer is ME – Alexandria Fitzgerald.
“I raise up my voice – not so I can shout but so that those without a voice can be heard… we cannot succeed when half of us are held back.” – Malala Yousafzai. Little did I know that when I heard those words on July 12, 2013, how drastically my entire life would change. Malala not only lit up the United Nations Trusteeship Council that day, but she ignited a blazing fire of hope and courage that engulfed the entire world.
Ever since childhood, I have been known as the little girl with a big voice and always having something to say. On Malala Day I found myself speechless for the first time as I stood amongst this 16-year old heroine, countless world leaders and the 499 other Youth Delegates who would soon create one of the world’s largest calls to action.
What many people did not know until my television debut during the Global Citizen Festival is that from age 14 to 22 I sustained seven traumatic brain injuries. Looking back now, I realise that the same passion which inspired me to wake up in the morning was also the weapon which nearly took my life away: cheerleading. At that time, cheerleading was not considered a “true athletic sport” and concussions weren’t regarded as life-threatening.
Most girls spent their sweet 16 birthday celebrating, while I spent mine fighting for my life and my right to education. That year I woke up in a helicopter after a severe water-park accident, not knowing my identity. Doctors assured my mother that my life as we knew it was over and to just count our blessings that I survived. All of my friends were starting their junior year of high school and preparing for college, while I was stripped of my right to return to school. After many months of rehabilitation, hospitals and home-instruction, I made a miraculous recovery.
This wouldn’t have been possible without the insurmountable support from family and friends, and excellent care from a team of doctors and learning specialists. During this dark period of my life, I found my true calling was volunteer work, thanks to coaching cheerleading for children with disabilities. Although I wasn’t allowed to physically cheer, it became so much more fulfilling teaching others.
Unfortunately, brain injuries are most often “invisible,” which makes people discredit the severe effects they have on a person. When I began acclimating to my new life I had to make many adjustments, school being the most detrimental one. Doctors were quite uncertain if I would ever regain cognitive and developmental skills after being diagnosed with multiple learning disabilities resulting from the concussions.
Making the transition from a mainstream student to being disabled was a major turning point in my life, and I am so grateful for what it has taught me. Most people would feel defeated or as if they had something taken away from them; but I believe it was life’s greatest blessing for me.
I was gifted with another shot at life and this time around I made a promise to myself to live it to the fullest and make every second count like it was my last. However, the true beauty of “not knowing the value of something till it’s gone” became real for me when my education was taken away. This forced me to become my own self-advocate for my education, because no one else could do it for me.
Multiple teachers and guidance counselors I had known for years treated me as if I was faking my symptoms and that I was “playing stupid” to get out of taking exams or doing homework.
Fast forward to now, where I have spent the last few years as a United Nations Youth Representative and as of April I am proud to have been chosen as a Global Youth Ambassador for A World at School. These positions have connected me to a great community of like-minded individuals worldwide, who are ready for much needed change.
It is NOT acceptable that in 2014, there are 58 million children worldwide without access to education. Not only can they not go to school, but they’re being viciously attacked and persecuted for even trying.
If circumstances were different and I was born in one of these countries, I could be struggling just like these children. This is the reason why hundreds of other GYAs and myself are raising our voices to show the power and momentum of influencing change. It’s not enough to simply just talk about doing the right thing by these children in need of a safe education; it’s finally time to take action.
The work of AWAS and other successful groups is very well aligned to the mission of the Global Citizen Festival. I am extremely honoured and humbled that I was chosen as a GCF profile to share not only my story, but the story of the 58 million children we’re fighting for. With our new #UpForSchool campaign, we will make the largest and loudest call to action this world has even seen in regards to education.
Being at the kickoff event at New York University was a moment I’ll never forget, as we all stood together and signed our little blue books. Whether it’s a digital signature made online, or written on paper, the millions of signatures we will receive will be a huge awakening when we drop them off to the UN headquarters next year.
My personal goal is to share this campaign and involve everyone I know to become not only a voice in our message to world leaders, but to inspire real action to be taken as well. I once heard a great quote about, “acting locally, while thinking globally.” Too many people feel that their solitary voice will not be heard and cannot influence change, therefore they forego taking action. The beauty of this campaign is showing that the solitude of one can transform into the solidarity of many, which will undoubtedly bring change.
What seemed like a never-ending uphill battle then, turned out to be the greatest life lesson which has brought me where I am today. For the last seven years I have focused my life’s work on being the voice for those who cannot advocate for themselves, similar to Malala fighting for the rights to education for every child whose voice cannot be heard.