Vergennes students unite to call for Peace One Day

VERGENNES — The sun shone once again this past Wednesday morning on the Vergennes Union High School Peace One Day celebration, the 12th annual student-organized, school-wide assembly dedicated to peace in students’ lives, at the school, and in the broader Vergennes community as well as the nation and the world.
Student speakers, joined by Ben & Jerry’s Rob Michalak, the company’s Global Director of Social Mission, talked about what peace meant to them and what actions the school community could take.
Other students on or near the podium erected on one of the school’s soccer fields sang, danced or requested a moment of silence, and almost all signed the annual peace banner pledging to be more peaceful in their lives.
The gathering included students from Mount Abraham and Northlands Job Corps as well as community members. They heard from student Sepehr Belar, whose family had to leave his native country, that VUHS is already doing some things right. Belar’s family moved to Middlebury, but Belar chooses to commute to Vergennes to attend high school. 
“I want to graduate from VUHS, because in VUHS people and teachers are very nice to me. The other reason that I say this on Peace One Day is to prove that our community in VUHS is the best in the world. Because VUHS is so good I choose to come up from Middlebury every day to go to school here. I want to say thanks to all of you on Peace One Day,” Belar said.
Peace One Day at VUHS takes its roots from a film by that name by Jeremy Gilley, who in 2001 helped persuade the U.N. to declare Sept. 21 every year as the International Day of Peace, in the hope that all conflicts would declare a one-day cease fire. In many cases cease-fires have been honored, allowing humanitarian goods to be delivered and vaccines to be administered.
VUHS Spanish and Community Based Learning teacher Kristine Kirkaldy in early September 2005 showed Gilley’s film to a cultural awareness club, with fellow staff members Lee Shorey, Glenn Story and Judy Wiger also on hand. The students were inspired to approach then-principal Ed Webbley to request an all-school assembly to celebrate the day, and it has become an annual student-driven tradition. 
On this past Wednesday, student event presenters Max Ratti-Bicknell and Aliya Hugo told the crowd that the International Day of Peace’s goal is make it a “day that is self-sustaining, an annual day of global unity, a day of intercultural cooperation on a scale that humanity has never known.”
They also announced the day was dedicated to Elizabeth Bicknell, a founder of local charitable group Women of Wisdom. Bicknell was the first signer of the VUHS Peace One Day banner on Wednesday.
Women of Wisdom had donated a “Peace Pole” several years ago, and the Peace One Day committed have purchased a second Peace Pole. The new one, which eventually be placed in front of the school, says, “May peace be in our homes and communities” in six languages: Hindi, Russian, Chinese, Italian, Hebrew, Japanese and Farsi.
Student Kai Williams then spoke about fighting being “fundamentally about fear,” stating, “You don’t wage war against those you know. You don’t fear those you know. You accept them.” On a personal level, Williams urged students to step outside their “comfort zone” at school and talk to those they don’t know.
“What I challenge you to do today to help foster peace is to invite someone to into your conversation that you don’t usually include, talk to someone you haven’t talked to in a while, and just try to get out of your social comfort zone by exploring other social groups. It doesn’t have to be an earth shattering effort, but if we all do this diversification, we will be well on the path to peace,” he said.
Michalak spoke about the Greyston Bakery in New York that supplies brownies for Ben & Jerry’s flavors. Greyston practices “open hiring” — it doesn’t matter if applicants have had substance abuse problems or criminal records, if they can learn to bake brownies they can be considered for employment. Michalak said over time this practice has helped create 3,500 jobs, $65 million in paychecks and 19,000 families served through the Greyston Foundation.
After VUHS students and fire and rescue cadets Tyler Shortsleeve and Schuyler Cole requested a moment of silence for children in conflict zones and people in the armed services who risk their lives to save lives, student Anneke Boelens talked about learning of the value of synergy and taking action while attending a leadership program, and she noted the invitations to Mount Abe and Northlands students. 
“Today, we are all here so we can create that synergy and work with each other to fix issues that affect us or are important to us,” Boelens said. “Sitting here together, we are a part of something bigger along with nations all over the world who are trying to end violence and help those in need. We need to take action to create more synergy in our communities in order to create a better tomorrow, a better week, month and year. We have the power to create better lives for the generations to come.”
   VERGENNES UNION HIGH School advanced art students Lillian Russell, left, Sophia Rippner-Donovan, Alyssa Saunders, Munro McLaren and Madison Ask unveil the school’s 2016 Peace One Day banner with help from teacher Liz Bicknell and her grandson, Robbie Bicknell. This year’s Peace One Day event was dedicated to Bicknell for her longtime promotion of peace. Photo by Kristine Kirkaldy
Also speaking were Mason Charlebois and Hunter Ladd. Teacher Christopher Wyckoff unveiled a new Peace One Day Anthem, the Commodore Singers and VUHS Dancers performed, Ratti-Bicknell and Eva Kamman dueted, and Emma Husk read a poem, “Kindness,” by Naomi Shihab Nye.
Students were also invited to sign a petition requesting a law banning the sale of ivory in Vermont, a major theme of the 2015 Peace One Day event; pies were sold to benefit a Haitian school; items were collected for the local food shelf; and jackets were collected for refugee families.
The VUHS event also appears to be about to be recognized by Unify, an international organization promoting the International Day of Peace. According to an email sent to Shorey last week, VUHS Peace One Day could soon join Unify’s 984 other official events.
“We are honored to have you join us on this World Peace Day journey by registering your Peace Event VUHS Peace Day Celebration on our UNIFY map. We are reviewing the information you have provided, and will update your location on the UNIFY map once it has been approved. This process usually takes 24-48 hours,” the email said. “Thank you for sharing your gifts with the world and unifying the global community for World Peace Week 2016.”
   LIZ BICKNELL SIGNS a Peace One Day banner while her grandsons Robbie, left, and Max look on. Photo by Kristine Kirkaldy

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