When Mark Pontoni, a history teacher at East Lansing High School, found out that Model United Nations would be entirely online this year due to Covid-19, he was disappointed. Since he had been a Model UN adviser for many years, he knew the value of experiencing the conferences in person.
Previously at these conferences, Model UN clubs from across several states would gather to compete, as students each represented various nations. Throughout the three-day conference, students participated in simulations where they were given real-world issues and delegated from their country’s perspective.
So, the aspect of the conferences being held online was a disruption to the overall experience.
“In the beginning, [learning we were online] was a little discouraging because I’ve been doing Model UN for a huge chunk of my life, and it’s always been an in-person thing,” Pontoni said. “It’s been an opportunity for kids to meet face-to-face with other kids from around the region and to learn how to interact and negotiate.”
But despite the obstacle, the kids got to work preparing by starting their research.
“The kids really handled it well,” Pontoni said. “They really surprised me, and they handled it really well. Their enthusiasm was just something to see.”
And all that hard work paid off when the team attended the Mid-American Model United Nations Conference online. East Lansing High School got second place overall for best prepared school, and several students got individual recognitions.
The entire ELHS team consisted of: Sydney Isham, Elke Schrenk, Natalie Sietz, Iyla Blundell, Greta Gmazel, William Beekman, Drake Howard, Emmah Howard, Jennifer Rairigh, Maisie Minnick, Amelia Pauly, Abigail Lippert, Gretchen Rojewski, Harper Wilkinson, Grace Fitzgerald, Bronwynn Kewin, Jack McGuire, Josh Buloushi, Marie Adele Grosso, Grace Townley, Zoe James, Hugh Hankenson, Edith Pendell, and Sydney Zaagman.
Hugh Hankenson, Grace Townley and Sydney Zaagman received second honors in crisis councils, and Jack McGuire, Zoe James and Marie Adele Grosso received highest honors in crisis councils. Additionally, Zoe James, Grace Townley, Marie Adele Grosso and Sydney Zaagman won honors in their committees. And Amelia Pauly won the top overall award for writing position papers.
“It felt really thrilling to receive those two awards,” James, a senior at ELHS, said. “I felt very accomplished. I always go into Model UN conferences just expecting to have fun and challenge myself, so it’s always exciting to win awards for doing something that I love.”
James represented the U.S. for the social, cultural, and humanitarian committees at the conference. This meant that she debated with delegates representing different nations to create resolutions to the problems they had been presented, and she had to be sure to act based on actual U.S. policies.
Leading up to the conference, James spent a few hours each week researching and writing her position papers, but she was still nervous about how she would perform at the conference. But when the time came to put her research into action, she was ready.
“I was expecting to put in an average amount of speaking time at the conference, so when I was one of the delegates that spoke the most, I was surprised with myself,” James said. “My expectations were exceeded, and I’m very happy with how the conference went and turned out, even if the preparation was slightly stressful.”
ELHS junior Marie Adele Grosso won the Jonathan Perry Award, which honors diplomacy, dedication and performance.
Initially, Grosso was going to represent Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, but, a few days before the conference, the team learned that someone else wasn’t able to represent the U.S. Grosso decided to fill in, which meant that her research was pretty last-minute.
“I didn’t expect to do very well,” Grosso said. “My mental health has been a bit rocky this year, so I was really doing the conference to prove to myself that I could still attend a full conference. I was just hoping to do my best and push myself.”
When the time to delegate came, Grosso represented the U.S. in the Disarmament and International Security Committee and Brazil in the Secretary General’s crisis simulation. At the end of the conference when they announced she had won the Jonathon Perry Award, she was surprised.
“It was surprising,” Grosso said. “I didn’t really compute that it was within the realm of what could happen, so I was kind of shocked. I remember just thinking it wasn’t really possible.”
Although winning the award was a highlight of the conference, Grosso was just glad to be able to compete with her team.
“I really love Model UN, so I was excited to work with people again, and I knew people from my school were in my committee, so I was looking forward to seeing them debate,” Grosso said. “It was really wonderful to see how hard everyone in my team and on my committee was working and to see things come together.”
This article was updated at 9:10 a.m. on Mar. 25 to add the names of the entire ELHS Model UN team.