By: Justin Shapiro, Co-Chair of the 2017-2018 CJPAC Fellowship Program, Fellow 2016-2017 and Generation participant 2014-2016
I wouldn’t be where I am today without CJPAC. Since hearing about the organization and its Generation: Student Leaders high school program when I was 15 years old, I have grown my political insight, professional network, and, most importantly, leadership skills. As an aspiring medical doctor, most people wonder why I got involved with a political organization like CJPAC, which isn’t traditionally aligned with my career goals. Well, the answer is simple: getting involved in the democratic process is imperative for every citizen with the privilege of doing so. We in a free society tend to take this liberty for granted, but I was fortunate to have had the opportunity to be exposed to this enriching program. The professionals who run the programs and the committed lay people who fuel it, want only to ensure that Canada’s youth carry on civic responsibility and understand the duty we have as Canadians.
As a student in 10th grade at a Jewish high school, I wanted an outlet where I could build on my passion for and knowledge of politics. Unfortunately, it seemed as if there was nowhere for a high school student to go, as my mentors told me I could get involved with a political campaign in my riding perhaps, or wait until university to be more politically active. While I was happy to volunteer, I wanted do more and learn more about the political process – I wanted to learn from real-life policy makers and influencers.
After doing some research, I found CJPAC and instantly knew it was for me. The truth is, after going to the first session, I realized that this program should be for everyone who cares about the Jewish community, Israel, politics, and leadership. By the end of my first year in the Generation Program, I had become so much more knowledgeable about the Canadian political process. This was an advantage that most students do not have and I felt fortunate that I had the opportunity to attend monthly learning sessions, a two-day intensive trip to Ottawa where I got to meet some of the leaders of our government, and a signature gala for the elites of Montreal politics, business community, and influencers. From then on, I knew I would remain involved with CJPAC for years to come.
The first opportunity I had to use what I learned at CJPAC was when I ran for “Prime Minister” of my high school student government. The skills I acquired proved to be immensely valuable in my successful campaign, as I rallied my peers and won! The confidence the Generation Program gave me, and the understanding of how to empower others, is truly a gift from the program.
After co-chairing the Generation program in grade 12, it was a natural progression to apply for the Fellowship Program for university students. Despite being the youngest participant in the program, it was a tremendous opportunity to be surrounded by the future leaders of our country and learn not only from the speakers, but from the other Fellows. I am truly blessed to be returning this year to co-chair the Fellowship.
The Generation and Fellowship programs help with more than just a political career. It’s rare to find an outlet that allows students in high school and university to meet with and learn from such high-level, successful professionals. These experiences only enhance any career goal. One learns how to ask pointed questions, examine issues which were previously unfamiliar, or perhaps develop a new understanding of them.