World teen power on display
Scholar-athletes from 155 nations gathered last week to explore global issues and bond over everything from sports to the arts.
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Each evening features a guest speaker, including: former Connecticut Gov. John Rowland, who discussed abuse of power for the first time since his release from prison on corruption charges; FOX News talk-show host Bill O'Reilly, who spoke about immigration; and world-champion skier Bode Miller, who stressed setting personal goals.Skip to next paragraph
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"Take responsibility for defining yourself," Mr. Miller said, in his first public appearance since his disappointing run at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy. "There is nothing more worthy of your time and energy than managing your happiness."
This impressive list of guests comes after years of building up the IIS. On this 20th anniversary of the institute, Mr. Doyle looks out on an organization that has spread from Rhode Island to include a Northern Ireland games uniting Catholics and Protestants, a Middle East/Mediterranean Scholar-Athlete Games in Israel, and this year's inaugural Pacific games in Australia.
The institute's success has attracted wealthy sponsors – who helped drop the tuition cost from about $2,500 to $750 – and an A-list board of directors and advisers, including former MasterCard International CEO Russell Hogg, International Olympic Committee Vice President Anita Defrantz, and three current US senators.
After Miller's speech, Brendan Swinarski took his post behind a table of treasures. Not satisfied with simply learning about global issues, Brendan and a group of scholar-athletes had decided to hold a silent auction for international souvenirs. "What started as just a little project to raise money has kind of grown out of control," said the 15-year-old, who came to the games to play the French horn in the symphony. "Everyone here brought little things from home to trade with the people they meet. We're asking them to donate them and put it toward a bigger cause."
The silent auction raised several thousand dollars, selling such eclectic items as a traditional Nigerian milk bowl, decorative plates from Israel, and an Australian Speedo swimsuit. "Most items only go for a few dollars," said Eileen O'Neil-Swinarski, Brendan's mother and a volunteer at the games. "After all, they're using what few spending dollars they have. But, bless their hearts, everyone was willing to donate."
This spirit of giving surprised Senia Abderahman. Born to West Saharan refugees and schooled in Norway, Senia thought she knew what Americas were like. "I assumed Americans were greedy and arrogant, but I've seen none of that here. They have also been even more tolerant of my faith," she said, motioning to her Muslim head scarf. "In Norway they would ask, 'Why on earth would you wear that?' and hurt my feelings. Here they say, 'Can you tell me about it?' "
Senia, 18, could not afford the $750 admission fee, but received a scholarship in Norway honoring her commitment to raising awareness of north African refugees, a topic she discussed at several of the world-scholar workshops.
But she came to the games to play volleyball, she said, and admits she's a little overwhelmed by all the rules. Used to playing with friends in a refugee camp on the Algerian border, she never learned about rotating positions and out-of-bounds.
"I will say, though, the rain has been nice," she said. "We don't get weather like this too often back home."
In 2008, the world games will move from URI to the University of Queensland, Australia, where organizers hope to bring together participants from more than 160 nations.