Many students might be unaware that November 17th is a day set aside specifically for them: International Students’ Day. It’s not a day we get off school or a day to set off fireworks, but it’s a day to remember the bravery of a group of students who stood up for their rights and their beliefs, no matter what the cost.
In 1939, Nazis stormed the University of Prague after demonstrations were held against the occupation of Czechoslovakia and the killing of Jan Opletal, a student at the university. The Nazis executed nine student leaders, sent over 1200 students to concentration camps, and closed all Czech colleges and universities.
Two years later, the International Students’ Council in London marked the anniversary of these events, starting a tradition that the succeeding student group, the International Union of Students, would continue. They continue to work today to make International Students’ Day a UN Official Day of Observance.
Even without the UN’s backing, student groups around the world have continued to celebrate the bravery of their Czech predecessors by holding demonstrations and events to help everyone remember. These events have not always ended peacefully, with uprisings and revolutions sometimes becoming violent. The driving force behind them, however, is in an effort on the part of the students to make their voices heard.
This is something that students everywhere can be a part of on International Students’ Day (or really, any other day). Throughout the ages, students have had the ability to make a great impact on the world around them in a variety of ways. Peaceful protests and sit-ins have alerted administration to the needs and feelings of the student body; letter-writing campaigns have helped make changes that have benefited students and professors alike; outside causes have been aided greatly through the help and enthusiasm of students around the world.
There are many ways for students to become involved. On campus you can join clubs and organizations to help ensure your voice and the voices of your classmates are heard and to help improve campus life. Off campus, you can join students from other schools to alert government officials to the concerns of college students. You can also help in other ways, by volunteering for any number of organizations, and giving service through coordinating food drives, blood drives, and fundraisers to benefit those who are in need.
Students are busy, overworked, and sometimes overwhelmed. But they are also part of a worldwide community that can come together to give rise to changes no other group could make. So on November 17th, think about what it means to have the freedom to receive an education and of the community of which you’re a part, and take advantage of all of the good you can do as a student.