Spring 2024 Issue:

An Alum Reflects

A Pivotal Experience

A Pivotal Experience

For Jessica Buttner ’19, attending the United Nations Climate Change Conference made all the difference.

A Pivotal Experience

By Jessica Buttner ’19, Photo by Nick Chismar Spring 2024

I n December 2018, I had the honor and privilege of attending the United Nations Climate Change Conference [a.k.a. Conference of the Parties or COP24] in Katowice, Poland, for one week alongside Dean Diane Husic. It was one of the most remarkable experiences I had while a student at Moravian, and as I reflect years later, I realize that it provided a monumental shift in my life perspective and an invaluable asset in my career.

As a first-generation college student, I had not dreamed of studying abroad or having such a worldly life-altering, high-level experience; I felt lucky enough to be pursuing a college education. Moravian changed my life in several ways; however, attending COP24 opened so many doors for me after I graduated.

During my first week of law school at Widener University, we had to tell a fun fact about ourselves, so I shared that I attended COP24 the prior winter. The energy in the classroom shifted as people stopped what they were doing to listen. My experience at the conference drew the attention of my peers, which helped me get chosen president of the student government and a voting representative to the American Bar Association for the Delaware Law School at Widener.

I can attest that I likely wouldn’t have been interviewed for certain jobs had COP24 not been listed on my résumé. At almost every job interview, my experience at COP24 was among the first topics addressed, and it helped me obtain my current position.

I am a lawyer with a specialty in transactional corporate law in the corporate capital of America. This is a very difficult job to land. Without having high-level globally recognized experiences on my résumé such as COP24, this law specialty would not have been an option for me.

Although COP is advertised as a science-based conference, it offers so much more. This was the first time in my life that I was in the same room as global leaders and where global change and movements originated. I attended events led by various countries, some of which I had never heard of, and learned about their realities with poverty and lack of resources to combat climate change. I observed next-level technological innovations, and plans that countries already implemented to have a sustainable impact on the lives of those living in their communities, and I engaged in discussions regarding what changes Moravian had made in Bethlehem to impact its students and local community long-term. I even attended a single-day international legal conference at a prestigious European university. Words cannot describe how impactful that was to a young woman who was the first person in her family to receive a college education.

As a first-generation college student, I had not dreamed of studying abroad or having such a worldly life-altering, high-level experience; I felt lucky enough to be pursuing a college education. Moravian changed my life in several ways; however, attending COP24 opened so many doors for me after I graduated.”

—Jessica Buttner ’19

Learning continued outside the conference grounds, as well. I had never been to central Europe, and grasping its modern culture and historical importance was overwhelming—it changed my perspective on the world.

Perhaps the most impactful experience was the opportunity to take a day trip organized by the conference to Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest of the German Nazi concentration camps and extermination centers in the world. In preparation for this trip, I told myself, “If you want to represent people one day, you need to confront and understand the evils of history that have shaped humanity.” I spent an entire day immersed in the location where more than 1.1 million people lost their lives. I entered a preserved gas chamber and came out alive, unlike hundreds of thousands before me. I walked the halls of buildings where the remaining belongings and the hair of hundreds of thousands of humans were displayed behind glass, and it came to me that the Holocaust occurred within the lifetime of my still-living grandfather and just 52 years prior to my existence on this planet.

This day changed my life. It changed my understanding of social systems, political power, privilege, humanity, hatred, and peace. My memories of that day are ingrained in my mind and motivate me to be the best attorney I can, especially for those who are underrepresented, without a voice, vulnerable, of low socioeconomic status, etc. This would not have happened had I not attended COP24.

As emphasized by my Moravian professors, I finally understood how incredibly important it is to gather leaders that have firsthand exposure to humanitarian issues such as the Holocaust and climate change because it brings a variety of perspectives to the conversation and helps spark innovative ideas.

My experiences at COP24 afforded me the opportunity to sit at tables where I provided insights and made valuable contributions. I have advocated for students of all backgrounds during times of struggle and reminded institutions of their power to impact lives and our planet in future campaigns.

In reflection on the type of leader I have become, I hope as an alumna I embody the mission of Moravian University. Attending COP24 prepared me for a reflective life, a fulfilling career, and transformative leadership in a world of change.

A Pivotal Experience

“We Are Moving Too Slow,” organized by Earth Council Flash Mob, reminded COP24 negotiators and leaders that we have to take action now! Photo by Unclimatechange

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