VUHS students talk peace and tolerance

VERGENNES — On Sept. 21, Vergennes Union High School students, staff members and some area residents for the eighth time celebrated the United Nations Day of Peace, which the U.N. designated in 2001 to be on Sept. 21 every year.
For the past eight years, VUHS students — with the approval and support of the school’s administration — have organized a school-wide assembly on the school’s front lawn to support peace around the world, in their communities, at the school and in their lives.
Student speakers included two of the organizers, Casey Brinkman, who welcomed the crowd, and Mary Langworthy, who closed the assembly.
Among those who spoke or organized were Hunter Smith, Marissa Ouellette, Damien Chamberlain, Matteo Palmer, Kristin Pike, Max Bicknell and Joey Tatlock.
Smith, an eighth-grader, was one who expanded the definition of peace.
“Peace is … not just the absence of conflict, peace can also be about finding the peace within ourselves. People who suffer depression or bipolar disorder can use this day to find a bright spot in their lives,” Smith said. “Soldiers who have served our country on the front lines and now suffer … Post Traumatic Stress Disorder … can use Peace One Day to help fulfill their wish for peace.”
The school’s Gay Straight Alliance went to the podium as a group to read a statement and a powerful anonymous poem from a VUHS student that pleaded for tolerance and understanding for all.
The group’s statement emphasized that all “have a right to be who we are, to wear our own emblems. Whether it’s short skirts and cowboy hats, Carhartts and camo, sweatshirts and jeans, or go-go boots and sequins, your have a right to wear what you want — to be who you want to be.”
The statement concluded, “Appreciate that we all have a right to our own freedom, and today and every day let’s offer each other peace.”
Music also played a major role: Teacher Christopher Wyckoff led one group, the Commodore Singers and the VUHS jazz band also performed, and “world drumming” greeted students as they were released from their morning meetings to attend.
Guest speaker Rory Jackson, a New Haven native and founder of the Trinity Yard School in Ghana, urged students to “build love,” and share the planet’s resources.
“We have enough for everyone. It is our responsibility to make sure that we help those in need,” Jackson said.
Langworthy noted several VUHS students would be volunteering at Jackson’s school this winter.
A representative from Burlington’s Peace and Justice Center, which was invited for the first time in 2011, also returned to the gathering last Friday and spoke to the crowd.
Attendees were also invited to buy pies baked by middle school students, with the proceeds going to charity. As has also been the tradition, all were invited to sign a Peace One Day banner as a symbolic pledge to work toward peace.
Before they did so, Langworthy summed up the day’s goal.
“Peace occurs on the global level, but it also occurs internally when we gather together to celebrate and contemplate. This morning represents hope, positivity and change,” she said. “It is moments like these that create the momentum that will propel our world forward. We are a generation that will inherit a very tumultuous planet. If we can weave that essence of today into our lives 365 days a year, then we have the power to change the game. Let’s be game-changers, VUHS.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at andyk@addisonindependent.com.

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