Ashly Uss '17 and Devin Gilmore '18 met last year during New Student Orientation at Emmanuel College and bonded over their passion of helping others. When Uss had the opportunity to attend the International Day of Peace Student Observance at the United Nations (UN) in New York City, it was a no-brainer for her to invite Gilmore to join her for a day of learning how to make the world better for all living things.
"The conference was amazing. My dream is to work in the UN one day, and being there was a big deal," said Gilmore, who admitted that both girls were giddy with excitement for the day.
On September 21st, the two attended the conference, which was also the International Day of Peace. Uss, a sociology and writing + literature major, said a main theme of the day was empowering young people to contribute to peace, since this large generation will soon have the responsibilities of the world in their hands. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon encouraged the young people to raise their voices, and said he is calling on all governments to empower young people to contribute to peace.
"I'll always remember when Ban Ki-moon said, 'The road to dignity is dialogue and conversation.' For me that sticks out because right now, realistically, neither of us can do that much to fix the world, but we can get together and talk about it to understand other people and cultures."
Uss learned about the conference through Associate Professor of Sociology and Department Chair Katrin Kriz. She had taken a sustainability course with Dr. Kriz and the two developed a unique connection over the material. When Dr. Kriz heard about the conference, she passed along the information to Uss, because she knew she loved her class. During the conference, 12 young people were going to have the opportunity to give a five-minute presentation on a peace-related project, so Dr. Kriz suggested that Uss submit a proposal.
Uss submitted a proposal for a project called Book Share, an online software platform that would allow college students living in the same area or taking the same class to share books to make education more affordable. Uss developed the idea with Dr. Kriz, and her project was selected for presentation at the conference. Unfortunately, due to time constraints, Uss was not able to present at the conference, but she was happy that her idea was accepted.
"I'm just very thankful to Dr. Kriz for passing this along. If it wasn't for her, I would've had no idea that this was happening, so I'm thankful." Uss said. "I still am serious about the project."
Along with the secretary-general, the conference panel of United Nations Messengers of Peace included: Dr. Jane Goodall, who is devoted to protecting endangered species; Michael Douglas, a Hollywood actor who is pro-global disarmament with the UN; Herbie Hancock, an American pianist and composer who is a humanistic fighter for world peace; and Ahmad Alhendawi, who is the first-ever Youth Envoy appointed by Ban to bring the UN to the world's young people.
At the conference, Ban told the young audience that the world needs their ideas and energy - and both Uss and Gilmore certainly have many hopes and aspirations for their own futures to better the world. Uss said her life will always involve volunteering; she has looked into joining the Peace Corps and has researched Fulbright programs for after college. Her ultimate dream is to open a hospitality house or family shelter. Gilmore would like to work with the UN and apply for a post-graduate fellowship through which she'd travel to different countries for service work. She's currently taking an Arabic course and would love to help out in a Middle Eastern country someday.
The two thought the conference was inspiring and empowering. In one segment, a young Lebanese woman asked what people should do about the European refugee crisis, and Dr. Goodall expressed that there isn't a true answer, yet.
"To hear them say that they're not sure yet and they're meeting with us to discuss these topics made me feel so powerful. We do have a voice and ideas, and they do matter in the bigger picture," Gilmore, an international studies major, said. "It really opened our eyes to how you need to look around more. College really opened my eyes to those things. People should actively make themselves aware of what's going on in the world, because you can't just close your eyes to things happening."