Friday, October 25, 2013

The Closing of a Conference, The Opening of a Mind

Who would have though that in just three short days our minds and hearts could grow so much.

As we met in our usual spot in the morning for breakfast we were, of course, excited for the day’s events, however there was an underlying tone of melancholy, as we all knew that this adventure was coming to an end. To lighten the mood, we stopped at Starbucks for some caffeine courage. Since the closing ceremonies were the largest of all three days there was a lot of traffic. This yielded the kid’s first lesson in Murphy’s Law for Travelers. We tried to hail a cab, but there was a 20-minute wait and at least a 10-minute commute to our venue. So, we had to walk over 1.5 miles to the venue! Good thing we opted for an extra dose of caffeine!

As we were rushing toward the venue, we were all secretly worrying that we wouldn’t make it on time and if we did, would we get good seats? Would we miss an opportunity? Approaching the venue, we saw a large line that extended all the way outside of the front entrance. We quickly established a plan, shifted quickly through the security checkpoint, and headed into the venue. Expecting to be one of the last to arrive, we realized as we entered into the Opera House Theater, that the first rows were reserved for us. We chose the second row from the stage.

(Second Row!)

We thought that the day couldn’t get much more surreal than second row seats until Professor Ives waved us over to the other end of the theater. “Come quickly,” he gestured. Like a flock of ducklings, our group moved quickly not really knowing what to expect. As we approached Professor Ives we quickly noticed that there was a small crowd of people near him- we knew there was someone important. Before any of us could gather our thoughts, we were being introduce to Nobel Laureate, Muhammad Yunus. He was so happy to meet our students and so impressed that they fundraised the money to attend the conference. He encouraged them to keep their interest in world issues and thanked them for coming! As we retreated to our seats, the students were glowing with excitement. Their energy was tangible- they were awestruck.

Muhammad Yunus

His Holiness the Dalai Llama, Betty Williams, Mairead Maguire, and other dignitaries filled the room with their candor, thoughtfulness, and passion. Words and phrases swirled about the theater. It was as if we were witnessing the discovery of the anecdote for human suffering. The laureates reached out specifically to the youth and since we were sitting in the second row, our students shared some truly unforgettable moments.

As His Holiness turned to speak directly to the youth, his eyes locked with our students. As he spoke, he maintained his position, never wavering, with  a conviction that was palpable for the students. Betty Williams followed up by asking the students directly if they had been involved with Peace Jam. Immediately their hands shot into the air. Betty was honored to have “peace-jammers” in attendance at the summit. Our students felt a direct sense of pride from this Nobel Laureate herself.

The Dalai Llama

When the sessions had ended, we made a mad dash for the exit in hopes of getting some more face time with laureates. We thought all was lost, when Mairead Maguire and Mother Angus stepped into the hallway. Xavier took a particular liking to Mother Angus and her story, so he took the opportunity to introduce himself to her. The genuine happiness you see in the photo radiated through all of us.

We had just one more session before the conference officially came to a close. The students were overwhelmed even to tears in some cases as they reflected on the past three days and just how much it has meant to them. The ceremony was moving, but even more poignant was the looks of incredible determination and confidence I saw on the students faces as they exited the theater. I knew in that moment that they had been deeply empowered and inspired. As an educator, it is a moment like this that I will remember vividly to remind myself continuously of the capacity of my students. 

Closing Ceremony

Last dinner in Warsaw!

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