by Tadeusz Mirecki
The Youth Leadership Conference organized by the American Council for Polish Culture is a week-long program in Washington DC in which young persons of Polish descent meet persons of Polish descent in leadership positions m politics, business, media, academia and arts. This year, the Conference was held on June 20 to 26, 2010. Housing was in a dormitory of George Washington University in downtown Washington. The 13 participants ranged in age from 17 to 23, and came from various cities, mainly on the East Coast.
The program was organized by Irena Mirecki, YLC Chair, and her husband Ted. Janet Beane, a Board member of the Polish American Arts Association of Washington (an ACPC Affiliate) was chaperon and den mother to the group.
The participants arrived on a Sunday afternoon and settled into their dorm rooms; the program began with an orientation meeting and pizza dinner that evening. The rest of the week was filled with sessions and presentations by a variety of speakers, a summary of which follows.
Monday's program began with the keynote address, entitled "The Essence of Leadership," given by Peter Podbielski, a retired Army colonel who had served in diplomatic military posts abroad, including a term as Chief of the Office of Defense Cooperation, US Embassy Warsaw, Poland. His presentation was not a dry lecture, as he elicited discussion from the participants on the points he presented.
The next point of the program was at the Embassy of the Republic of Poland, where Ambassador Robert Kupiecki met with the group. We were pleasantly surprised that he found the time from his busy schedule to spend over half an hour with us, as the participants introduced themselves. Among the Embassy staff who gave presentations was a young diplomat who had taken part in YLC over ten years ago, so the current participants could readily relate to him. We ended by having lunch there. The Embassy program was organized by Minister Marek Konarzewski and Dr. Grazyna Zebrowska of the Science, Education and Technology Section.
That same day, Monday, our next session was at the Institute of World Politics, a graduate school of national security and international affairs, whose web site (www.iwp.edu) states that it is "dedicated to developing leaders with a sound understanding of international realities and the ethical conduct of statecraft, based on knowledge and appreciation of the principles of the American political economy and the Western moral tradition." We heard several presentations, concluded by a talk by author, history professor and IWP academic dean Marek Chodakiewicz, whose two-hour ad-lib presentation was brilliant - the participants hung on his every word as he ranged over a variety of topics, including some from Polish history and others of the present, particularly the Iraq war.
On Tuesday, the day began with a presentation at the Library of Congress by Regina Frackowiak, Head of the European Reading Room. The LOC staff brought out several rare items relating to Poland, including an album of signatures of Polish school children on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of US independence, and also in thanks to the people of the United States for their support of Polish independence after WW I, and food assistance after that war. Next was a tour of the US Capitol building, arranged by the office of Senator Barbara Mikulski of Maryland.
In the afternoon, the group met with Dr. Andrzej Raczko, outgoing Alternate Executive Director at the International Monetary Fund, in the IMF group of countries that includes Poland. The day ended with a tour of Arlington National Cemetery, with stops at the Kennedy gravesite, the Tomb of the Unknowns for the changing of the guard, and Arlington House, the mansion once owned by Robert E. Lee and confiscated when his land was nationalized to provide a burial ground for Civil War Union soldiers.
On Wednesday morning, Dr. Julian Kulski, a participant of the Warsaw Rising of 1944, gave a presentation entitled "Legacy of the White Eagle" which outlined the fate of Polish people during the war. The afternoon was dedicated to a sight-seeing tour of Washington DC, led by Gordon Kray, a sculptor who was honored by the ACPC with its Jan de Rosen Award in 1992. Being an artist, he could explain many details of the style and decoration of the Federal and other buildings. He also showed some of his own works around the capital, including a large marble Madonna at St. Matthew's Cathedral and a bronze of Pierre L'Enfant, city planner of Washington, at the DC Judiciary building (it is destined to be installed in Statuary Hall in the US Capitol). His explanation of sculpting techniques fascinated the group.
Thursday began with a meeting with attorney Mark Brzezinski, son of Zbigniew, at his law office. He presented yet another slant on what characteristics are needed to assume leadership positions, and gave each participant a copy of his book, The Struggle for Constitutionalism in Poland. Then there was another meeting at the IMF, with incoming Alternate Executive Director Katarzyna Zajdel-Kurowska, who is scheduled to replace Dr. Raczko whom the group met on Tuesday. Both meetings at the IMF were organized by Jolanta Stefanska, who works there, and is the mother of one of the YLC participants.
The afternoon was spent on two video presentations: "Career Opportunities in Social Enterprise" by Paulina Migalska (YLC alumna and sister of one of this year's participants), and "Nine Days that Changed the World," a film by Newt Gingrich Productions about the first pilgrimage of Pope John Paul II to Poland in 1979. George Weigel, the only officially authorized biographer of John Paul II, called this event "the pivot upon which the 20th century turned." A representative from Speaker Newt Gingrich's office, who had traveled to Poland to assist in creating the film, was present at the screening to provide background and answer questions. A copy of the film was included in each participant's handout materials, a gift from Ted & Irena Mirecki.
The day ended with a pleasant surprise: Mr. and Mrs. Stefanski invited the group to their Northern Virginia home for a swimming pool and pizza party. On Friday morning, the original schedule called for a trip to Baltimore, Maryland, to visit the National Katyn Memorial and meet with Richard Poremski, Chair of the National Katyn Memorial Foundation. However, given the near 100-degree heat, and the inadequate air conditioning in the van that was used for transportation, the trip was canceled as it might have endangered the health of the participants. The morning was left free for individual visits to the many museums within walking distance.
In the afternoon, Paulina Migalska gave a repeat performance, presenting a talk and discussion entitled "Perspective on Poland: Legacies of 20th Century Changing Tides of History." A major topic in this presentation, and the discussion which followed, was the history of Polish-Jewish relations since WWII. The Conference wishes to express its gratitude to the Kosciuszko Foundation, which lent the use of its American Center of Polish Culture building in DC for several of the sessions: the keynote on Monday, Dr. Kulski's presentation on Wednesday, the screening of "Nine Days that Changed the World" on Thursday, and both presentations by Paulina Migalska on Thursday and Friday. Our sincere thanks to Alex Storozynski, President of the Foundation, and especially to Marta Gongora, Administrator of the Center, who acted as our hostess.
The closing event of the conference was a group dinner on the 17th floor of a hotel with a spectacular view of the Potomac River, Francis Scott Key Bridge and the Gothic spires of Georgetown University. ACPC President Debbie Majka was present, as were ACPC Executive Committee members Richard and Bernadette Wiermanski, and Tom Payne, President of the ACPC Affiliate from the National Capital Area, the Polish American Arts Association.
We also wish to thank all the organizations which provided financial sponsorship to enable young people from their area to participate:
- ACPC Affiliates - Polish American Arts Association of Washington, Polish Arts Club of Trenton, Polish Heritage Society of Philadelphia;
- Washington Metropolitan Area Division of the Polish American Congress;
- Kosciuszko Foundation, Philadelphia Chapter.
The Youth Leadership Conference 2010 provided young Polish American students from all parts of the U. S. to meet and discuss important matters with distinguished leaders of Polish descent in various fields in our society and also to enjoy social/educational events and activities over a week-long visit in Washington, DC. ACPC members are deeply pleased that for the past ten years these opportunities have been extended to many deserving students. Readers of this publication are warmly invited to join our tax-free, 501(c)(3) organization so as to share the pleasures in offering such rich educational Opportunities including scholarships and grants to our outstanding young men and women. Annual dues are only $10. For membership information, please contact Mrs. Anna-Mae Maglaty at 860-521-7621 or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org