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Thoughts

Silvano D’Agostino offers his thoughts on literally anything he is interested in, ranging from technology, media (movies, podcasts, art, music) to politics and philosophy.

ELMUN Speeches

Silvano D'Agostino

ELMUN 2014

Recently, I opened and closed my last English-speaking MUN conference as Secretary General, the conference my school hosts, the Elephant Model United Nations (ELMUN). It was awesome but also sad in some ways, since it felt like the first of many goodbye's that are to come for me. I delivered two speeches as part of my duty, both of which apparently achieved their goals. I have been asked several times whether they would be published somewhere – so without further ado, here they are:


Opening Speech

Thank you Mr. President, Good morning ladies and gentlemen of the House, Mr. Gerke, Mrs. Hagemann, Mr. Stollmann, honorable Chairs, dear guests, admins, press,

It is an honor for me to stand here in front of you today to officially open the sixth Elephant Model United Nations conference. Mr. Jentzsch has given you an impressive first hand account of what the work you will theoretically enable over the next two days is actually like – how difficult reality can be, but also how much can actually be achieved. Last year he gave me one of the bomb shells from the Liberian Civil War that has been turned into a peace symbol. I keep it on my desk as one of the very few physical mementos in my life to remind me of what humans can achieve and what is possible in international conflicts. THANKS MIKEL

I'd like to put this year's ELMUN into perspective for you. I first participated in 2011; when I sat where you are sitting right now, I had no idea what to expect. But since then I have evolved much like ELMUN has – I spent a year abroad, organized the conference as Deputy Secretary General in 2013 and today I am opening the conference, the last English-speaking MUN I will ever participate in as a high school student. And ELMUN itself? Well, last year we had around 120 delegates; if I were CEO of the Elephant Model United Nations Organization, I could now speak of more than 70% growth – Mr. Stollmann briefly mentioned the figures leading in, but I'd like to re-iterate: This is the largest ELMUN to date and we'd sincerely like to thank all of you for being here and making this possible, thank you very much!

As you might be aware, this is the first time ever we are moving just about half of the conference out of this school – don't get me wrong, I love it here and ELMUN is the HBG to a large extent, which is why we are holding this Opening Ceremony here, but we are proud of this year's move to bigger venues, allowing our numerical expansion. Overall, we are more than 260 students participating in ELMUN one way or another this year; more than 200 of those are delegates. We live in seven different countries and twelve different German cities, and we share at least this one interest: We care about where our generation is going.

You see, in all my communication I seek to convey a message, clearly yet beautifully, spotless yet persuasive – but the message is always key. So when I was thinking about what I should be telling you this morning, I came to wonder why I was even here in the first place. And then I figured the best way to convey my message today would be by telling you three short stories that – in their very own ways – brought me here. I believe these stories will be helpful, since some of you may be aspiring to someday stand up here as well – and even if you don’t, they apply to life in general and will be helpful in a diverse range of situations.

Now it’s important to note that this is not the Wikihow on How to Be Successful in MUN or wherever else. These are just three stories from my life. One exemplifies the philosophy with which I approach everything. One gives you a straight forward point of advice that has served me very well. And the last one is a truth you may not want to, but absolutely need to hear.

I have been very lucky to have a lot of great people around me in terms of colleagues and friends – and classmates, who spent every school day of the past two years with me. Ask any of them, and they will confirm that I have literally had three, maybe four bad days in the last 700. Any other day, I have been in a good mood. I loved getting up every morning and I laughed at least as much as I got done. Many times I've been asked how I do it. But there is no recipe for happiness, no steps to follow on the way to enjoying every single thing you do. I can only tell you where I'm coming from and how I got here.

Steve Jobs once used the wonderful metaphor of "connecting the dots." You cannot connect the dots looking forward, but you will looking back – and I can say that every step on the way to where I stand now was absolutely necessary – every dot connects and was needed for the next one to follow, if you will. Realizing this will provide you with the opportunity to enjoy whatever it is you're doing. Yes, sometimes things suck a little bit, but remember that even the most complicated annoyances in life only lead to better times, to the times you love and are looking forward to. Approach life with a little bit of humor and stop taking everything too seriously – because only when you enjoy what you do will you be able to do truly great work.

During my year abroad in 2011 and 2012, a handful of people who meant a lot to me in very different ways died, and for various reasons I could not attend even one of the funerals. It was around this time I realized the two most important things that make the philosophy with which I approach life: Every line I write is necessary for the book that is my life, and that book will have a last line sooner rather than later. So I decided I would relish everything and as much as humanly possible focus on what I loved. It can be hard, especially if what you love seems crazy, but – to once again borrow an amazing line by Steve Jobs – it’s those who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, who actually do. The time available to us is so limited, we need to make good use of it, otherwise we won’t achieve your goals; and everyone should furthermore try to enjoy every moment to its fullest extent because otherwise life will be wasted.

This directly leads into my second story, and the specific point of advice I would like to give you. I am actually stealing this from a fantastic artist, Mr. Konstantin Stanislavski. He was a Russian actor and theater director, who influenced modern realistic acting like nobody else – he introduced this technique known as the Stanislavski method, which includes aspects like creating background stories not written in the script for the character one plays. But to me the most intriguing aspect of the method is this: Actors will create a ring of focus around themselves on stage or set, carefully recognizing every object, every detail of that set, and turn into their reality. Throughout various practices the focus will be expanded further and further in rings around the actor, until the entire set has a story to it, real to the character one is playing, real to the actor who is playing it. I have taken this technique and applied it to life. Upon my return from the states, I began with a very narrow focus in terms of activities; over time, I expanded and was able to concentrate on more and more projects at the same time.

It is my honest believe that a lack of focus is what destroys most creations, most people’s projects. And no doubt, it is very hard. We are inclined to want more, always more, but being able to say “No!” is one of the greatest strengths you can develop. For every decision you make, there is an opportunity cost, some other decision you’re letting go, and you need to be aware of this. Awareness and focus are difficult practices, but the mindfulness they come along with can be mastered. Dedicate all of your energy to one project at a time, fully and entirely, and only when you feel you cannot do any better at it, move on and attempt another one and another one and another one, being your best for each of them, being focused on all of them, very aware of yourself at all times.

Mindfulness as a concept is quite esoteric, incorporating aspects of Buddhist philosophy. It may be a little difficult to grasp, so let me illustrate what I mean: That person you’ve been thinking about the entire day, who didn’t greet you in the morning, who you thought was mad at you for some reason you couldn’t figure out? Turns out you judged pre-maturely, Mr. Holmes, and they simply didn’t see you. That thing that’s been on your to-do list forever, which you say you have no time for? Turns out you really just need to sit down and do it; it’s not the time that’s lacking, it’s just your focus.

I could talk about this for hours and maybe we’ll get the chance tomorrow night at our Social Event, but for now let me leave you with this: I know that Sherlock Holmes cannot be Buddhist. Thinking and judging are important, but awareness of what you’re doing and even more significantly focusing on what is truly important to you in life are just as necessary to be successful.

I have become quite renowned at this school, you know. I walk around the halls and am greeted by him and her and them. I run from one person to the next to organize this and that. I love it here and I feel loved here. A few weeks ago I was walking by the building late on a Sunday night on my way to a dance, and I saw the sun setting behind the school – and in a freaky moment I realized I won’t be here for much longer. I’m a senior, I’m definitely leaving this institution for good this summer. The time I have spent here was intense for me, it was extraordinary, it felt and still feels special. Yet when I’m gone, I will move on and everybody here will move on. I’m not really special. And even here at ELMUN, I have a nice title, I’m the so-called Secretary General, the guy who tells some stories before and after the conference, and, yeah, he might look damn good in that suit, but, man, he’s not special. He’s no different from you and I.

This is probably the most difficult to accept truth in the world. You’re not special. You will not make history. The universe would be no different without you. Fifty years from now, how many of us will have achieved anything special? Who of us will have left a dent in the universe? Nobody. One person, maybe? Two, if we’re extremely lucky, though even one is a lot to ask. Life doesn’t hold something special for everybody. Everybody cannot be exceptional. These things that I’ve told you about over the past couple of minutes, how you should enjoy everything, focus, say no, be mindful? They will not work out for everyone.

But tell me this: Why shouldn’t they work out for you? They work out for some people, right? They’ve been working out just fine for me. Why shouldn’t they work for you? Why shouldn’t you be able to find you can do even better, you can find even better techniques? I think the fear of being irrelevant, just fear in general can be a huge counter-force to any attempt you make at being great. Don’t let that fear drive you!

You have an idea? Good, get up, find people to realize it with. You have found some wrong in the world? Good, get up and start a campaign to change it. You are upset about something? Good, get up and start doing something about it. You have a talent that inspires people, that makes them happy, interests them? Good, get up and live that talent. There is something you feel you could do so much better than it is currently being done? Good, get up and do it! Just do it! The only thing preventing you from doing whatever it is you want to do is yourself.

Every one of you is here because you want to be here. You are here because you care about what happens. Throughout the upcoming sessions some of you will be gathering your first experiences in making potentially big decisions. Some of you will be able to prove you already have what it takes to do good and inspire others to do the same. Some of you will think about life very differently following ELMUN. And if even just one person present here today leaves on Wednesday evening feeling they achieved something, if even just one person gets up out of their chair at around six o’clock on the 28th of May 2014 to leave this very assembly hall and is eager to do more, starts to think bigger and begins to make things happen, to get up and just do it, then I and the entire team working on this year’s conference have achieved our goal. Because we have been working very hard to get this going and show every single one of you that you can just get up and do it and the entire team deserves a big round of applause for that, thank you very much!

I’d like to finish up with one of my favorite sentences: Take a step back and look at the big picture.

You can do this on various scales: You can take a step back at look at your life in the big picture – where do you see yourself in two, five, ten, twenty years? Where do you want to go? How are you going to get there?

You can take a step back and look at a company or an institution and ask where they are going? What are they going to do? Do they have a plan? Can you maybe help with this plan?

You can take a step back and look at an entire industry, trying to understand what the next big thing is going to be, for example in the technology or fashion industry.

But you can also take a step and look at our global community to see where we are going as a society. In the grand scheme of things, much of what we take for granted has only been in existence for a very short period of time and at the current pace of advancement in technology every future generation will face the same situation: New technology, new problems that have never existed before with no one there to help them but themselves. Once you’ve understood this, once you've taken a step back and looked at the big picture, you can look at problems in a new light.

I sincerely hope all of you put in the maximum effort over the next few days because it is the only way we have a realistic chance at tackling the world community's problems, our problems, the problems nobody but ourselves can help us with. It’s hard and you will face obstacles on the way. Inevitably, you will fall on your journey. But it’s about getting up and making the right decisions here at ELMUN and every single day in your entire life.

So I urge you to make the right decisions; I urge you to enjoy making these decisions; I urge you to focus on making these decisions; I urge you to take responsibility for making these decisions.

So with this in mind, I am more than glad to hereby officially open the 2014 Elephant Model United Nations conference. I yield the floor back to the President.


Closing Speech

Thank you, my dearest Mr. President.

I know I'm the last thing standing between you and your certificates and the opportunity to finally go home. It's been a long couple of days, more exhausting probably than some of you might have thought, but I believe that's very healthy, it's very real. But I will keep this one short, I promise.

Have you guys seen the movie Wolf of Wallstreet? There’s this amazing scene in which di Caprio as Mr. Jordan Belfort is about to say his final goodbyes from the company he founded, but he spontaneously decides to stay – and delivers an amazing speech and proclaims: “I’m not effin leavin’!” As much as I’d like to say the same – this is really going to be goodbye for me.

Leading into the conference I told you a little bit about how I approach life. This here, this is certainly my last chance to speak in front of all of you – and very likely my last opportunity to speak in front of a comparably large part of the older student body of the Hermann-Böse-Gymnasium… while being a part of it myself at least. Like I said on Monday, I'm a senior, my high school career practically ended twelve days ago with my last final exam and this ELMUN session is about to come to an end as I speak as well. I will miss being here a whole lot, and I'd therefore like to say goodbye and especially thank you. So first off, thanks to all of you who came here to make ELMUN 2014 one of the most wonderful experiences I've had at this school, it really truly means a lot, thank you!

Before I go, some people do, however, deserve and require a special shout out before I leave. My classmates and all of my teachers belong to that group, of course, without whom I wouldn’t be the person I am lucky and happy to be.

Then my lovely friend and, as far as I'm concerned, successor to-be in some ways, Miss Inés Funghihihi…? Inés Faghihi, for being way too much like I was only a few years ago. She may make some very distasteful choices when it comes to smartphones, but she’s pretty awesome otherwise. Thank you as a representative for all of those people for whom I see a bright future ahead, Rolez, Hendrik, Leon, Nick, for giving me the feeling I am leaving things in good hands here.

There is one delegate I have to especially recognize, not just for his outstanding achievements at ELMUN 2014, but especially because I've considered him my best friend for more than five years now, despite seeing him only a couple of times a year. Finn, thank you for every movie we’ve seen together, thank you for all the interesting conversations we've had, and thank you for making me question everything I do only to arrive at the conclusion I’m probably doing the right thing. I am glad to have someone like you, someone to share a mutual admiration of the other with and someone I'm certain I'll be in touch with for the rest of my life!

There are two ladies who have been particularly important for me, and it may be kinda weird to name them at the same time, but they are my mother and my girlfriend. My girlfriend whom I of course are going to have to leave in the summer, when I’m moving to Boston. It’s been some of the happiest months ever, despite 19 final exams, thank you so, so much! And my mother… well, she’s been supporting me truly like nobody else for the past 18 years. Whatever I wanted to do, she did her best to make just that happen and there is no other way to express my gratefulness than saying thank you so, so very much, I know I don’t get to have a lot of family time, but I appreciate everything you’ve done so much, so thanks and I love you.

Second to last, from the bottom of my heart, thank you Ms. Müller for everything you let me do and made possible for me to do at this school, for everything you have done for me… I have no words that can account for the appreciation and gratitude I feel, but… they're intense. The offer to show you around wherever I go stands and I cannot wait to show you some pictures of me in this beautiful tie and to visit the school again and again – because in a way I’m not bloody leaving.

There are two people I especially grew on over the past two years and they were the most amazing organizational team members I could have wished for, Mr. Samuel Frey, our PGA, and Mr. Felix Müller, our Head of Admin. Thank you for all the work on pretty much anything either of us would wanna tackle. Thank you for pushing me to go that one step further I might not have dared taking alone. Thank you for giving me the feeling that, no matter where we'll be, we’ll be able to rely on each other! It's been a hell of a ride with you guys, thank you so much!

Now, I've said my thank you's, so I guess this is the goodbye-part. I'm not just leaving the school, but the country for one of the greatest colleges in the world and I cannot wait for everything that's to come for me in the future. Yet, with at least half an eye, I am also sad to leave. I have come to love everything about my life here, and it's somewhat hard to let it all go. I've enjoyed every bit of it and so should you. You never know when things'll come to an end, in the good and the bad ways. Make the best of it you can! I certainly will and I will always try to be there for anyone who can genuinely use my advice or support, so if anybody wants to stay in touch, you'll find me on the web easily to join me on my journey – I will never forget where I came from. I will never forget ELMUN. I will never forget you guys. And I'll come back whenever I can! Like we say in German, this is not goodbye, this is just auf wiedersehen – til I see you again!

And with this, I hereby officially declare that the overwhelmingly fantastic sixth Elephant Model United Nations conference 2014 has come to a successful end and, for one last time, I yield the floor back to the President.


I worked on the Opening Speech a little bit every once in a while for a couple of weeks, adding and deleting thoughts, until I was truly happy with the results. While this version of the speech is very specifically targeted for the occasion, these are general thoughts I have taken to many different places (including my Harvard application) – and will take to several places again throughout my life. Somebody told me, these points of advice, these stories did not sound like they came from an 18-year old; in fact, I believe in 15 years, I may be giving this exact speech. The Closing one I only finished on the last day of the conference, though I generally knew what I wanted to say "all along."

I'd love to have the time to expand upon the writing process and maybe I will one of those days, but for now, I have more important things on my plate.

[s∂]