Angelo Bechara visited the Clinton Global Initiative University to show students how to build effective projects.
By Ruth Steinhardt
In Lebanon, where Angelo Bechara spent much of his childhood and adolescence, civics and government classes were required. So when Mr. Bechara, a New Jersey native, returned to the United States for the end of high school, he was surprised at how uneducated his classmates were on the civic realities of their own country. In particular, he was horrified at how little his peers knew about their country’s national debt.
“National debt is a significant fiscal issue in the U.S.,” said Mr. Bechara, who is now a graduate student at the George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs. “It stands now at about $20 trillion, and with any debt comes interest… That will increase, and unfortunately in the next 10 years, if we don’t do something, national debt interest will become the third largest spending program in the U.S. budget.”
It’s a particularly urgent issue now, as Senate Republicans contemplate a tax bill that could boost the national debt to nearly the size of the entire U.S. economy by 2027.
“Millenials need to be caring about this issue because, unfortunately, we’re going to have to deal with it,” Mr. Bechara said. “Many of our representatives in Washington aren’t being so vocal, and that may be because they are not going to have to deal with the repercussions.”
So as a high school and college student, Mr. Bechara became involved with national college campus-based initiative Up To Us, which helps millenials develop peer education materials on reducing the national debt. He developed educational programs at his undergraduate alma mater, Stockton University in New Jersey, including a giant Monopoly board.
And as a sophomore at Stockton University, he and his Up to Us peers attended the Clinton Global Initiative University to bring their cause to national attention. The team Mr. Bechara led even won a prize and was invited to share the stage with former President Bill Clinton.
This fall, Mr. Bechara revisited the annual conference, which connects college students with intellectuals, experts, leaders and celebrities to explore solutions to global problems. (GW hosted the conference in 2012.)
But this time, Mr. Bechara attended as a presenter, not a student.
Mr. Bechara spoke at a breakout panel called “Designing a Meaningful Project,” and his fellow panelists included two CEOs and a professor from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
“These were people sitting around me who had achieved a lot in their lives,” Mr. Bechara said. So speaking to college students, he tried to emphasize relating to them rather than preaching.
“The thing that always keeps me going in a project is to not settle in your comfort zone,” Mr. Bechara said. “Once you feel too comfortable, that means you’re doing something wrong. You should keep feeling like the [reward] is always a few feet ahead of you, so you’re always working towards an evolving goal. Never be complacent.“
Youth engagement is one of Mr. Bechara’s other most pressing causes. That, he says, is in part because of his international upbringing.
“I was really well-educated about Lebanese civics and government, but there, you can’t hold your government accountable for the problems you know about,” Mr. Bechara said. “In Lebanon, you can’t call your representatives and have someone listen. The U.S. is the exact opposite. There are people in government who have to listen to you, but we as young people don’t always know how to reach them or what issues we should be talking about.”
In particular, Mr. Bechara said, young people need to vote.
“Any election day, make the trip home if you can—especially if you’re under the age of 25,” he said. “State and local elections have much more of an impact on your life than big federal elections. And oftentimes those state and local elections literally come down to one or two votes. I’ve seen Board of Education seats in my district that were decided because one candidate got 60 votes and the other got 62. If I got my parents and my one friend to go vote, my candidate would have won.”