By Jack Stedman
Moe ’23 addressed the group of middle schoolers virtually while donning a toga, declaring that Carthage has defeated the Roman army.
The scene was from the fourth annual Commonwealth Model United Nations Conference, better known as COMMUN. With faculty guidance allowing students to be together in school while hosting the event, the students had fun with it, sporting costumes for the addresses to committees on the Punic Wars and the Iliad.
This is what it’s all about. COMMUN, after all, is a teaching conference. It provides a safe place for students to learn all key skills and Model U.N. experiences without feeling overwhelmed or competitive.
COMMUN is in its fourth year and is cementing itself as a beloved tradition. Entirely student-run, the conference hosts approximately 140 middle school students from the Greater Boston area. This year, there were six committees covering a range of topics, from women’s rights, artificial intelligence, the Syrian Civil War, and the 2nd Punic Wear (togas and all).
After a quick transition to a virtual conference last year, the planning and execution of this year’s COMMUN went much more smoothly. Student leaders, well aware of Zoom fatigue, decided to forgo a keynote speaker to allow for less screen time and maximum direct engagement between the participants.
Whether they have to suddenly shift to a virtual conference, like in 2020, or they have to collaborate and produce background guides through the screen, as was the case this year, the leaders of COMMUN continually pull together a resoundingly successful and engaging conference. It’s in part due to the dedication and adaptability of the Commonwealth students in charge but also because of the type of students who attend.
“They all participated so much and worked so hard, submitting position papers even though they were optional and bringing their best, most confident selves to committee,” say Co-Secretaries General Alan ’21 and Sasha ’21.
The strong leadership, and emphasis on teaching rather than competing, give the middle schoolers in attendance a range of benefits. Public speaking skills are a staple of any model U.N. conference, and the congenial atmosphere of COMMUN leaves more room for students to find their voice. Students may represent countries or people whose opinions they vehemently disagree with, too; in the process, they learn how to represent these views faithfully and accurately, gaining a better understanding of them without compromising their own beliefs.
The conference’s focus on collaboration also helps students meet new people, form working relationships quickly, and practice cooperating with people with different backgrounds and beliefs. Ultimately, students come together to write resolutions. They “use their combined knowledge and abilities to solve [the] committee’s problem and make the world a better place,” as Alan and Sasha put it.
The experience will leave middle school students ready for the thrill of competition at conferences like MITMUNC (hosted by MIT) or CAMUN (hosted by Concord Academy)—though, of course, they’ll have to switch out the toga for business attire.