Students from Mattituck High School joined 25 other high schools and universities from around the world at the United Nations’ Manhattan headquarters Monday to celebrate the International Day of Peace.
“Partnerships for Peace — Dignity for All” was designed to educate young people, referred to as peacebuilders, about the problems plaguing today’s world and to encourage them to strive for peace on large and small scales by introducing them to speakers and other students from around the world.
“There’s a lot more going on that just what we see,” said Mattituck junior Carter Montgomery, 16. “It kind of opened our minds up to what else is going on in the world.”
Superintendent Anne Smith, who was one of seven educators and 23 students from Mattituck to attend the event, said the day focused on uniting people through music and performance. Famed musicians Herbie Hancock and Yo-Yo Ma spoke and Mr. Ma also performed.
Participants were also treated to taekwondo demonstrations, a musical performance by the United Nations International School Chamber Ensemble and a drama created by students in Lebanon who Skyped into the conference.
“You see people from these countries and the media documents it as all these countries are crazy; everybody there is getting killed,” said sophomore Justin McKinney. “But then you look at the kids from these countries and they’re all normal kids but they’re just in need of some help.”
The students listened to a Q&A with U.N. Messenger of Peace Jane Goodall, a renowned anthropologist, and actor Michael Douglas. They also heard a speech by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon.
“When we were going in I didn’t really know what to expect at all because we’ve never really done any of those types of field trips,” said senior Anna Kowalski, 17. “I especially didn’t think such famous and renowned people would be there. It was definitely really interesting.”
Social studies teacher Gary Buckner shook hands and had a conversation with Ms. Goodall about her foundation Roots and Shoots.
Established in 1981, the first International Day of Peace was celebrated in September 1982. Originally held on the third Tuesday of each September, it has been held every Sept. 21 since 2001.
“The task of international peace is pretty daunting,” Mr. Buckner said. “But when you see the world body that is intended to do that and you see them reaching out to young people — I know this sounds corny — but it gives you some hope.”
The high school received an invitation to the event after filling out an application. Dr. Smith said they were given 30 seats and strongly encouraged to fill them with as many young people as possible.
Students from numerous groups, such as the Southold Youth Bureau, Unity Club, student government and Students Against Drunk Driving were chosen in order to represent a cross-section of the district, she said.
“It’s such an incredible honor to be the student representatives there and getting to hear these people speak,” said senior Sam Shaffery, 17. “I would really like to especially thank the administration for doing that, for making that a priority to show us something so real and so important.”
Dr. Smith hopes students take what they learned and apply it not only during the school year but for the rest of their lives. She and assistant principal David Smith both agreed the conference’s message goes hand in hand with the district’s motto of “What does it mean to make a difference?”.
Ms. Finnegan, an elementary staff member who attended, said she loved how the conference related the message of “What kind of world do you want?” on both a global scale and a small one, using bullying as an example.
“It was a moment they will never forget,” Mr. Smith added. “It was one of those impactful experiences that will hopefully be a catalyst to propel them to do some amazing things.”
Top photo: Mattituck High School senior Sam Shaffery. (Credit: Courtesy)