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Insights from Seattle Academy's SAAS Summit on Civic Engagement and Social Entrepreneurship

Photo of keynote panelists at the 2024 Seattle Academy SAAS Summit Civic Engagement & Social Entrepreneurship
Written By: Gena Wynkoop, Editorial Content Manager

Seattle Academy's second annual SAAS Summit, held this past Sunday, May 5th, delved into the realms of Civic Engagement and Social Entrepreneurship under the theme "The Work Won’t Wait - Forging Coalitions for Positive Change." 

The event shone a spotlight on leaders leveraging their entrepreneurial and collaborative skills across private, public, and nonprofit sectors as catalysts for effective action amidst daunting challenges.

Featuring 50 panelists, all members of the SAAS community, including alumni, alumni parents, and current parents, the event drew over 175 attendees and over 80 SAAS students, marking it a resounding success.

Panels explored a diverse array of topics, from the future of public service and the justice system to climate conservation, education, and healthcare. Discussions also delved into the dynamics of public and private partnerships alongside community organizing efforts.

The Opening Keynote, titled "2032," featured a distinguished panel moderated by Head of School, Rob Phillips, who underscored the urgency of initiating conversations on politics and civic engagement, emphasizing the pivotal role of the younger generation in driving meaningful change. Panelists included Ellis Andrews ’20, Gabby Borenstein ’18, Gabriel Greschler ’14, Tim Punke, David Sheppard, Colleen EchoHawk, and Sung Yang. 

What ensued was an engaged and dynamic dialogue, urging students in the audience to prioritize various avenues of engagement in the coming years. From advocating for increased voter participation to emphasizing the importance of local politics and viewpoint diversity, the discussions offered invaluable insights.

David Sheppard, a SAAS alum parent and the Regional Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Commerce, emphasized the criticality of voting, stating, “66 percent of eligible voters in the US vote. That means that 34 percent didn’t. My suggestion to young people... encourage your friends and family to register to vote. Once people are registered, they are much more likely to vote.”

Echoing this sentiment, Gabby Borenstein ’18, a SAAS alum and the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation for Senator Maria Cantwell, stressed the significance of involvement at the local level, highlighting the tangible impact of initiatives beyond headline-grabbing issues.

“I always advocate for involvement at the local level. I think politics always start from the ground up,” she said. “I think it’s easy to focus on big-ticket items, headline-grabbing things. But there are ballot initiatives, state legislation, and state supreme court items every day that have a real impact on everyday lives. Don’t lose sight of those!”

Tim Punke, current SAAS parent and Head of West Coast Monument Advocacy, urged students to advocate for viewpoint diversity in educational institutions, emphasizing the importance of cultivating critical thinking skills and fostering respectful discourse.

“My push to everyone in this room, especially the students, is to push your school, educators, and colleges to give you viewpoint diversity. They need to teach you how to think. You have to be a good listener, and you need to articulate viewpoints that you disagree with,” Tim said. 

Following the keynote, attendees dispersed into breakout sessions, each focusing on specific themes such as Civic Empowerment Through Education and Nurturing Youth Engagement in Public Service and many more. These sessions, facilitated by esteemed community members, fostered insightful conversations on pressing issues. For a full list of sessions and speakers visit our SAAS Summit website

Reconvening for the final Keynote, moderated by Associate Head of School Giselle Furlonge, the topic was “The Work Won’t Wait” with speakers Sheri Shnider '08, Matt Echohawk-Hayashi, Kris Engskov, Matt Fulle '13, Rhonda Lewis, and Morva McDonald.

Alumnus Sheri Shnider emphasized the significance of granting individuals the space to evolve, underscoring the importance of empathy and understanding in driving transformative change.

“We can make change by giving each other space to grow and evolve,” said Sheri, Managing Attorney Center for Children’s Law and Policy in Washington D.C. “It takes time. It doesn’t happen overnight. We need to give people time to change and grow. We need to care a little more about each other and give that grace that we all deserve.”

Matt Echohawk-Hayashi, a current SAAS parent and SAAS Board Chair, highlighted the challenge posed by social media and our culture in our perception of others. He also emphasized the importance of offering grace to each other, acknowledging that mistakes don't define individuals.

“One of the challenges I think now, whether it be social media or our phones, is that we tend to think that in this very moment, [if people are ‘messy,’ that’s exactly who they are,” explained Matt. “It’s important to give each other grace. [If you mess this moment up, that doesn’t mean there is a judgment on you]. It’s okay to make mistakes in our relationships. Maybe it’s not okay what you said, but the relationship is still okay.”

Matt continued, “That is a skill we have to intentionally invest in because there are higher stakes… If someone next to you says the wrong thing, [we need to make space for them to screw up and it be okay. Let’s move forward from there].”

Sheri, who was excited to be back on campus, shared with students and audience members, “I'm thrilled to be back here because I think SAAS helps young people figure out what they care about in very meaningful ways. We have to figure out how to make more people who are willing to make change and lean into the discomfort,” said Sheri.

The SAAS Summit stands as a testament to the power of collaboration and innovation in driving positive societal change, inspiring attendees to champion causes they are passionate about and effectuate tangible impact in their communities.

View 2024 SAAS Summit: Civic Engagement & Social Entrepreneurship Event Photos