Campus & Community / Magazine Feature

Peace laureates to gather at DU

The largest-ever U.S. gathering of Nobel Peace Prize winners will convene at DU Sept. 15–17. 

Ten laureates—including the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu—will be on DU’s campus to talk with 3,000 teenagers from 32 countries about how the teens can instill peace in their own communities. 

On Sept. 15, the laureates will issue a “global call to action,” which will kick off a 10-year campaign to examine and solve problems that prevent peace worldwide. 

The call to action is a result of conversations among the laureates. Their plan for peace will be included in a new book, We Speak as One, which will be released that weekend. 

The gathering and the call to action are part of the 10th anniversary celebration of PeaceJam, a local nonprofit that promotes peace by gathering Nobel peace laureates to share their experiences and knowledge with young people. 

“We want to use the event to start a global conversation — what the core issues and root problems are and how they can be addressed,” says PeaceJam co-founder Dawn Engle. “The consensus is that there’s a new reality; things are so interconnected now, and we need new solutions. We can’t put up a wall. What we do locally affects the entire world.” 

Other laureates slated to attend the event are Rigoberta Menchu Tum, Betty Williams, Shirin Ebadi, Jose Ramos-Horta, Adolfo Perez Esquivel, Oscar Arias, Jody Williams and Mairead Corrigan Maguire. Aung San Suu Kyi will take part via videoconferencing.

Engle says the laureates have told her they believe working with young people will cause new ideas for peace to emerge. 

“PeaceJam’s goal is to inspire a new generation of peacemakers who will transform their local communities, themselves and the world,” she says. “We want to encourage students to work for social change in their schools and communities.”  

Archbishop Desmond Tutu says PeaceJam is about “youth learning to do a better job than we did.” And the Dalai Lama says PeaceJam will help thousands of young people “gain a greater understanding about the world and about themselves.” 

Eyes on DU
Jim Berscheidt, DU’s assistant vice chancellor for news and public affairs, calls the event “a logistical challenge that required participation from many departments on campus.” 

“This is one of the most high-profile events ever at DU,” he says. 

The British Broadcasting Corporation will issue reports from the school and feature DU’s campus in a 13-part documentary. The BBC, which will also broadcast the international news conference from DU at 4:30 p.m. on Sept. 15, has an estimated 270 million viewers worldwide. 

“We’re expecting dozens of media representatives, and there may be other national news broadcasts from the campus,” Berscheidt says. 

PeaceJam has held smaller regional conferences at DU in the past and chose the school for this event because it’s “a wonderful place with incredible facilities, beautiful grounds,” Engle says. 

“DU has been a great partner and willing to work with us,” she says. 

Two public talks are scheduled. On Sept. 16, the laureates will gather and speak in Magness Arena. On Sept. 17, the female laureates will appear at the Ellie Caulkins Opera House. 

Concepts of peace
DU Chancellor Robert Coombe says the event is important not only for the University but also for the city. 

“We should keep the concepts of peace in front of us,” he says. 

“It’s not just that there is war in the Middle East. There’s so much violence and war going on around the world,” Coombe says. “The headlines since 2001 have been about war, and so it’s good for us to focus on what peace is and that it should be the normal state of affairs.” 

Coombe praises Associate Vice Provost Jo Calhoun, who spearheaded much of DU’s effort in coordinating the conference.

“Jo and her folks have done a wonderful job,” Coombe says. 

“This is a very complex project, and it takes a well-coordinated effort on the part of DU staff, people at the mayor’s office and PeaceJam to make it successful. This event will generate a tremendous amount of visibility for the University.” 

Coombe says the timing is good because of students returning to campus. 

“This will definitely get their intellectual juices flowing,” he says. 

Coombe says PeaceJam’s conference will also serve as a segue to a fall meeting of Bridges to the Future, a program designed to explore American history and values in a post-Sept. 11 world. The 2006–07 theme for Bridges to the Future is peacemaking, a topic former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell will discuss at a Bridges event in October. 

Students benefiting
About 150 DU students will volunteer at the PeaceJam event as mentors for the teen delegates and as facilitators for discussions and team-building exercises. 

One DU student helping out is Negin Sobhani. The Highlands Ranch, Colo., international studies graduate student will be an assistant to Nobel Laureate Shirin Ebadi, an Iranian lawyer and human rights activist.

“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” says Sobhani, an ethnic Iranian familiar with Ebadi’s accomplishments. “One Nobel Peace Prize winner is mind-blowing enough, but 10 of them, that’s just unbelievable.” 

Sobhani has worked with PeaceJam teen delegates at past conferences and says she was “blown away” by their “potential, intentions and ambitions.” 

“Some of them are in middle school, and to see what all they’re doing already in their communities is phenomenal,” she says. 

Oliver Luker, a Denver South High School student who will attend the event, says he hopes to gain a better understanding of peace. 

“Right now I believe the reason there is violence in the world is because there’s no understanding among people,” Luker says. 

Luker started a high school PeaceJam group that finished building a plaza at a local church in July. It includes a “peace pole” with the words “May peace prevail on Earth” inscribed in Arabic, Hebrew, French and English. 

“I think it’s important that we bring Muslims and Christians together and explain that Muslims are not terrorists,” Luker says. 

This article originally appeared in The Source, September 2006.

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