The “Quo Vadis? Polish-Canadian Youth Leadership Challenge”, organized by the Polish Students’ Society of the University of Ottawa, took place from May 1st to 3rd 2009 in Ottawa bringing together 117 students from all over Canada. The Canadian Polish Congress (KPK), the Embassy of the Republic of Poland, as well as the University of Ottawa Department of Modern Languages and Literatures were the patrons of this weekend-long event. The conference sought to address three key themes: heritage, leadership and unity.
The weekend long program began with a ceremonial flag raising at Ottawa City Hall, commemorating the second-oldest democratic constitution in the world, the May 3rd Constitution of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. In attendance were the Ambassadors of the Republic of Poland, Dr. Piotr Ogrodziński, and of Lithuania, Ginte Damušis. The President of the Canadian Polish Congress, Władysław Lizon, Military Attaché of the Republic of Poland, Captain Kazimir Starobrat, as well as Members of Parliament Rick Norlock and Blaine Calkins, Chair of the Canada – Poland Parliamentary Friendship Group showed their support by also being present at this event.
Later that day, the official inauguration of the conference took place on Parliament Hill. The students were welcomed by co-organizer and leader of the conference, Kamil Mróz, and were further addressed by the Ambassador of Poland, President of the KPK, as well as Member of Provincial Parliament Yasi Naqvi and Dr. Andrzej Wielgosz, co-organizer and professor at the University of Ottawa.
Saturday morning the students’ team-work skills were tested with a scavenger hunt per se, “Leadership Challenge”, for which the grand prize was four trips to Florida. Dr. Andrzej Garlicki, President of the Polish Combatants’ Association of Canada, opened the afternoon session with a moving patriotic appeal to the present youth. The panel series that followed discussed issues of Polish identity in multi-cultural Canada, the contribution of Poles to Canadian society, as well as the necessity of maintaining strong ties with Poland itself. Dr. Tom Brzustowksi, CEO of the Polish Credit Union, Halina Marszałek McGregor, Toronto City Councillor Peter Milczyn, Basia Ruta, Assistant Deputy Minister of Finance and Corporate Branch for Environment Canada, as well as the honourable Colonel Chris Solar, all took part in the discussion which was led by Professor Ryszard Sokołowski of the University of Ottawa. Those who could not be present, former MP and well known Polish-Canadian Jesse Flis, as well as Andrew Kania, current Member of Parliament, sent video greetings.
In the evening, all delegates were invited to a soirée at the Polish Embassy. They were greeted by the councillor of the Embassy, Artur Michalski and Rafał Domisiewicz, first secretary of the Embassy. The official part of the evening ended with a beautiful rendition of two preludes by Frederyk Chopin, performed by University of Toronto student and conference participant Jacqueline Mokrzewski. Enjoying a buffet dinner of traditional Polish cuisine, the guests were honoured to take part in this historic meeting between Polish-Canadian Youth and representatives of the Polish Republic.
The last day of the conference was designed to give attendees the practical tools necessary to carry forward, as well as to provoke their thoughts and to pose some difficult questions. Producer of Toronto television programs “Na Luzie” and “Z Ukosa”, Wojciech Śniegowski, shared his expertise by speaking about the role and power of the media. Colonel Walter J. Perchal presented a very stirring view of the challenges facing Polonia. His presentation was given a standing ovation and until the very end of the conference, students approached Colonel Perchal, trying to find answers to their most pressing questions.
At the closing session, co-organizers of the Polish-Canadian Youth Leadership Challenge, Kamil Mróz and Magda Sulżycka, shared their experience and gave advice on how to effectively organize, solicit sponsorship, and promote such a large scale event. At the round-table talks that followed, students finally had the opportunity to reflect on everything they had learned over the weekend and to brain-storm concrete initiatives and goals for their involvement in Polonia. After having presented these propositions, all agreed on the need to organize another “Quo Vadis?” so that four decades would not pass again, as the was the case with the last such conference held in 1971. With the support of all those present but in particular with that of Walter J. Perchal and Jerzy Barycki, President of the Polish Canadian Business and Professional Association of Windsor, the students of Windsor delighted everyone by announcing that they would undertook the next conference in 2010. Youth from Alberta pledged to continue the new tradition in 2011 in Edmonton.
The question “Quo Vadis?” or “where are we going (Polonia)?” seems to have been partially answered by an overwhelming enthusiasm to broaden and strengthen the networks and friendships that were formed at the conference. Without a doubt, all those present agreed that in order to sustain our cultural identity we have to foster the Polish language as well as Polish traditions and culture. The need to become engaged in civil society and the political process was repeatedly stressed. The underlying theme was to seek out that which unites Polish-Canadians and not that which divides.
This is why this year’s initiative of the Polish Senate to organize the “1St School for the Leaders of the Polish Community Abroad” is so timely, because it seized the momentum generated by the “Quo Vadis?” conference. Many of its participants attended the Ottawa conference. As we continue forward, it is important to note that modern technology and on-line communication give this generation’s leaders a significant advantage over their predecessors. It gives them the ability to communicate, organize, and publicize their efforts at the touch of a button. Therein lies one of the answers to the question “Quo Vadis?”
Original by Ania Barycka, Windsor, Canada
Translated by Monika Wyrzykowska, Toronto, Canada