VUHS students seek peace and tolerance at annual rally

VERGENNES — Vergennes Union High School students this past Friday dedicated their ninth annual Peace One Day rally to the late Rep. Greg Clark, a city resident and teacher at Mount Abraham who they said was a strong backer of their annual rally for harmony at school, in homes and in the community as well as around the world.
VUHS has held the student-led event on Sept. 21 each year since 2005 to celebrate the United Nations International Day of Peace. Last week’s all-school Peace One Day assembly was moved to Friday because Sept. 21 fell on a non-school day.
Senior Emilee Trudo announced the dedication to Clark, who died in a traffic accident last November. Trudo said Rep. Warren Van Wyck, who was appointed to take Clark’s place in Montpelier, would be working to fulfill Clark’s goal of having the annual VUHS Peace One Day banner hang at the Statehouse.
“The determination for peace, and the success of Peace One Day was always on the forefront of (Clark’s) mind. And although he may not be with us anymore, his impact will never be lost on us,” Trudo said. “However, we can use this day to cherish him and the support he has always given us … It was his hope that one day the Peace One Day banners could drape from the windows of the Capitol building, sparking an awareness in all of Vermont.”
After Trudo’s announcement, Clark’s widow, Eileen Clark, Van Wyck, former Rep. Connie Houston and close Clark family friend Judy Mace were the first to sign the 2013 Peace One Day banner and thus pledge peaceful behavior.
All those in attendance were invited to sign the banner at the end of the event, which was held at the end of the school day. As has been the case every year, most chose to do so.
Many students either sang, played music, made speeches or read poetry during the course of the program, which began at 1:30 p.m. with the Commodore Jazz Ensemble playing as people took their seats.
The program opened with Peace One Day committee members Max Bicknell and Shirley Muzzy asking for a moment of silence to recognize both victims of violence and those who serve the United States in uniform.
The committee then unfurled the banner, followed by the dedication to Clark.
Music on the program came from Julia Johnson and Emma Gardner, who were accompanied by teacher Chris Wyckoff; Matteo Palmer on acoustic guitar; the Commodore singers; the VUHS jazz band; and Joanna Tatlock and Alix Kaufmann, accompanied by chorus teacher Karen Jordan.
Students Emily Steen, Cedar Winslow, Sarah Marie Rathbun and Emma Bryant performed a Christmas truce skit, and two student representatives from the Shelburne Community School shared their interest in recognizing Peace One Day at their school.
Guest speaker Weston Pew, a Walden Program canoe guide, talked about the creation of a 200-mile trail system in Wyoming, and student speakers addressed topics both far-flung and close to home.
Casey Simpson talked about the problems facing the children of the Republic of the Congo, and Gardner challenged VUHS students to support the work Malala Yousafzai, the young Pakistani student education activist who was attacked and nearly killed for her efforts to enhance education for Pakistani girls.
Student speaker Sebastien Crowell read his poem, “Be,” and Trudo urged the audience to “stop thinking about the ebbs and flows and trials and woes of your everyday life, and just look at the person sitting next to you. They belong to you, and you belong to them. Take care of each other.”
Several members of the school’s seven-year-old Gay-Straight Alliance also spoke. Sammy Kepes introduced the GSA segment, stating the remarks were “a compilation of recent reflection and discussion in GSA.”
Ericka Delisle said, “From male to female, from Christian to atheist, to East Indian to Caucasian to African American, to lesbian, bisexual and transgender … we are all equal. Let’s be sure we are all accepting each other for who we are, and with that love and peace will replace hate and war.”
Ally Stearns reminded listeners about the power of language.
“Many students think saying, ‘That’s so gay,’ or ‘You’re queer,’ as an insult is really not a big deal. Or that telling black jokes all the time is funny. In reality … those words can hurt … Let’s be sure we keep peace in our school by not being the bystander when someone gets put down for who they are.”
Sara Stearns asked those listening to “imagine if you couldn’t hold hands, hug, kiss or show affections with your boyfriend or girlfriend in public” in seeking acceptance of same-sex couples. “They feel people’s stares, their judgment … Living like this isn’t pleasant or peaceful. It’s time for change and our generation are the ones to make it happen.”
And Tia Hunt made the same point through a poem titled, “Because We Look So Good Together”:
“She says that people stare because we look so good together
Don’t we?
Doesn’t everyone look good when they’re in love?
But the hushed whispers which trail us to class
They don’t give off that good sense
Small clusters of hateful words escape from those attempting a secretive conversation
They fly up into the rafters of this old building
Dripping down into the school bags
They drop themselves into people’s mystery meat
Where most eagerly gobble them up
They sink straight into people’s ears where they bury into the brain and manifest themselves as
the idea of what is ‘right’ and what is ‘wrong’
But why is holding my girlfriend’s hand in public wrong?
Why should I be wary of who’s around the corner to determine if I can?
I hold my girlfriend’s hand
And picture a day that people stare because we look so good together.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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