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USICD Youth in Development Graduation Speech

August 7, 2013

A smiling woman in a black shirtAnais Keenon graduated magna cum laude from the University of Oregon in 2012 with a Bachelor’s degree in Journalism: Advertising. After her internship experience at Mobility International USA and free lancing a feature story on people with disabilities in Ghana, Ms. Keenon became inspired to pursue a career advocating for disability inclusion in development work. She is now halfway through a Master’s program in International Development at Gallaudet University, known as the world’s only major university for the Deaf, and is expected to graduate in June 2014.   Anais recently completed her Youth in Development (YiD) internship at the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES), which has worked in more than 135 countries to support citizens’ rights to participate in free and fair elections.  The YiD internship program this summer hosted its first cohort of seven interns in Washington DC.  All YiD interns are students with disabilities from across the United States who share a commitment to careers in the field of international development or international affairs.  The YiD program is coordinated by the U.S. International Council on Disabilities (USICD) with funding support from the Mitsubishi Electric America Foundation (MEAF).  At USICD’s recent Annual Meeting on July 25, 2013, Anais delivered a YiD “graduation” speech on behalf of all seven YiD interns–the prepared version of her speech follows below.  Read more blog posts by Anais and other  2013 YiD interns at this blog under the tag “Youth in Development”: https://usicd.wordpress.com/tag/youth-in-development/

Connect with Anais via her LinkedIn profile at: http://www.linkedin.com/in/anaiskeenon

Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. My name is Anais Keenon, and I am one of seven Youth in Development interns that arrived in Washington, D.C. ten weeks ago. All seven of us are diverse in age, geography, gender, passions and disabilities. A few of us are in undergraduate college, while others are pursuing their graduate degrees. Some of our disabilities are more visible, and some of our disabilities are less visible. Some of us hail from the West coast, while others are from the South, the Midwest or the Northeast. Though we come from different walks of life, we are all united by one thing: our dedication in pursuing careers that will help advance inclusion, advocacy and human rights worldwide.

Our internships have reflected our diversity. Ki’tay Davidson, an outspoken and dynamic social justice advocate who plans to pursue a career in disability policy and social enterprise, put his knowledge and expertise to use at Handicap International, an aid organization working to combat poverty and exclusion, and mitigate the consequences of conflict and disaster.

After her experiences in Uganda and Panama, Emily Robson decided to work on healthcare issues in developing countries, and had the opportunity to intern at the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, which manages engagement with international emergency management partners.

Chris Hutchinson, who plans to combine his military background and public health experience to eventually work with veterans and non-governmental organizations, completed his internship at Medical Care Development International, an organization providing technical assistance in health and socioeconomic development efforts.

Katie Donahue, whose study abroad experience in Spain inspired her to encourage other students with disabilities to travel abroad, interned at World Learning, a nonprofit organization that focuses on international development and exchange programs.

Bonnie Prestridge, who plans to pursue an international career involving bilingual education, cooperative business development, and social entrepreneurship, spent her summer interning at the National Democratic Institute, which works to support and strengthen democratic institutes worldwide.

When Marisa Rafsky visited Israel, she became inspired to study the impact of terrorism and security issues on the challenges of poverty, and completed her internship at Winrock International, an organization to empower the disadvantaged and increase economic opportunities.

As for myself, I had the honor of being an intern at the International Foundation for Electoral Systems, which supports the electoral rights of citizens in more than 135 countries around the world, and plan to continue my work as a disability rights activist here in Washington, D.C.

This program has provided us with valuable experience in international work, not only through our internships but also through the guidance of our mentors, who have graciously contributed their time and efforts to support us in our journeys forward. Additionally, our knowledge and expertise has been considerably enhanced by networking opportunities and panels on topics such as the rights of indigenous populations, the rights of the LGTBQI community, and children with disabilities. Our experiences this summer will reverberate throughout our future careers.

As our world becomes increasingly interconnected, and as minority groups of countries worldwide realize the potential of international collaboration, it has become a time full of opportunities to make positive, integrated and inclusive progress on the status of human rights. As many of us have realized, it is imperative to encourage and inspire people with disabilities to be part of the international movement to work towards a genuine state of equality for all.

Lastly, I would like to take this opportunity to express our gratitude for the incredible staff at USICD. I can honestly say that our experience would not have been the same without their support, encouragement and insights into the challenges and successes each intern has experienced this summer. Thank you so much for this tremendous opportunity to be here. “

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