How did we get here?

Thu, 04 Apr 2024

Athena Samonte, Program Volunteer

How did we get here? That is a layered question–like an onion, with each layer becoming more complex and thicker as we near a core that often makes us cry. But before we begin peeling those layers, let’s begin with a lighter introduction for this blog. Hello reader! My name is Athena, I’m SFU Public Square’s latest Program Volunteer!  

The first layer to the question "how did we get here?" is defining the we. In this case, the we is in fact an I. So how did I get here?

As mentioned, my name is Athena, and I’m a fourth year Cognitive Science major with a minor in Global Humanities and Public Policy at SFU. Outside of academics, I’m President of the Humanities Student Union, Events Manager of the Reclaim Tech Club (a club about taking back the power technology has on us as individuals), and last but not least, Program Volunteer for SFU Public Square. In my free time, I enjoy reading classical and contemporary literature, and playing the New York Times’ Wordle.  

This topmost layer is the most basic one, starting with facts about myself that are surface-level. The next layer delves deeper, finding uncertainty underneath.  

As a student getting closer to graduation, I frequently think about the future. And frankly, if I had a nickel for every time I changed career paths, I would have enough cash to not even need a career! While I don’t regret these changes, it feels harder to know whether one choice has brought me closer or farther from where I want to be. I’ve jumped from wanting to be a psychiatrist to an author to a teacher and so many others. It wasn’t until I began volunteering with SFU Public Square that I felt I no longer needed to continue jumping.

So, that leads me to the next layer: how did I end up at SFU Public Square?  

One of the first things that drew me to them was their focus on event topics surrounding advocacy, community and dialogue. And ultimately, what motivated me to volunteer with Public Square was the opportunity to gain hands-on experience about event planning within a professional setting. I have always enjoyed event planning (yet another career option I considered pursuing) and I truly enjoy the details and rhythm of process and event designing. In previous years, I volunteered as an events director at a non-profit organization focused on mental health and hosted many online events to raise awareness of available resources. At SFU, I have had various opportunities to plan events with the clubs and organizations with which I’m involved. What set SFU Public Square apart was that they were providing an opportunity to work on events at a much larger scale and from an institutional perspective.

My first and favorite event with this team was the Dean’s Lecture on Information and Society with Dr. Safiya Noble. At this event, not only did I get to see all the puzzle pieces of event planning and processes come together, but the speaker and lecture topic showed me how my interests in technology and policy can overlap. I had the chance to speak with Dr. Noble after her talk where she told me “We need people like you!” For me, that was a clear sign that I was on the right path. This core moment showed me that I can pursue my interest in policy and technology after I complete my studies. And should that path not lead anywhere, I know that I will feel happy and proud to have had the bravery to follow my passion.

Looking back, I now see that I’ve always been interested in technology. Paradoxically, technology has given us the ability to be much more connected across the globe, but it has also created more barriers between individuals allowing for misinformation and division. That’s why I think it’s important to peel back those layers, even on the internet. SFU Public Square has given people the space to come together and reflect, encouraging them to take space and make space for difficult conversations.

So, how did we get here? For me, it was by spending time exploring many other paths that ultimately led me to this one. Volunteering at SFU Public Square has not only furthered my practical event planning and communication skills, but this experience also reminded me that it is important to peel back an issue’s layers by creating safe spaces for dialogue and learning. This is an ongoing practice I will continue to hone beyond my volunteer term.