Students make ultimate pledge for change in fighting Genocide
Published: Sunday July 24, 2011
Chelmsford, Mass. - Much as I tend to be involved with Armenian affairs as my family and friends might attest, nothing quite cuts the mustard better than promoting genocide education in our schools.
It's something I've been doing the past three years as part of the Armenian Genocide Education Committee of Merrimack Valley, launched in 2009 by Dro Kanayan, grandson to a famous Armenian general by the same name.
It's been a 3-man operation since the get-go with Albert S. Movsesian part of the team. Together, we visit anywhere from 8-10 schools a year and elaborate on the Armenian Genocide with a video made especially for the occasion and eyewitness accounts.
It is often not an easy sell, given the age and elements of today's youth. But they wouldn't be taking such a world history curriculum if they weren't the least bit interested in genocide/holocaust studies.
On the whole, I would say we're taking giant strides forward with the subject matter. I'm sure they'd rather be shooting hoops in a gym class than listen to someone preach about 1.5 million victims being annihilated by the Turks and how the political rhetoric can become somewhat ambiguous to a sophomore student.
The approach needed something more than just a couple guys before a classroom blowing out hot air on a hot day. The sight of someone looking out into space can be somewhat dispiriting.
Our show needed a new twist --- one that would leave an indelible imprint upon our young audience. A letter arrived in the mail from students at Chelmsford High School shortly after our appearance there which went better than expected.
These teens represented a project titled "Be the Change." As a final coup de grace, I asked 25 of them to stand and take a pledge with their right hands in the air. Even their instructor wasn't exempt. Here's what they repeated after me:
"I pledge to try to make a difference in the lives of others. I pledge to stand against intolerance, prejudice, discrimination and hate, and to promote greater understanding and acceptance. I recognize that even small acts of kindness can have a big impact on others. I pledge to be the change."
I figure the best way to change the world is to start with the individual --- and a pledge for peace would certainly be remembered in light of everything else we threw at them that day.
In a follow-up letter, they wrote: "We at Chelmsford High School truly appreciate the time your organization has spent sharing the Armenian story with us. We realize that the best route to positive change is through awareness and understanding. You have given us the unique experience of seeing the world through another's eyes. We are now better prepared to honor our pledge."
As a parting token, they each affixed a signature to the letter and agreed to make a donation in our honor to a worthy charity as a token of their appreciation.
At a time when today's youth is often given a bad rap and clearly misunderstood by elders, here's a cluster of exemplary students pledging to be the change.
Last October when I lost my mother, many expressed their condolences with cards and e-mails mourning the city's last genocide survivor. Some were expected. Others were not. Never did I anticipate a manila envelope filled with sympathy cards from students at one of the schools we had addressed.
Each one bore a personal message that warmed my heart during this time of grief. And it was only because we had enhanced their education on the Armenian Genocide and spoke a bit about the survivors.
Another class lobbied the United States postal authorizes for a commemorative stamp marking the 2015 centennial, complete with written statements and artwork.
There was a time when we made the approach to schools. Now, they're approaching us for return visits. Many also want another program we offer --- a panel discussion featuring 4-5 genocide groups each giving their own story and a pitch for human rights.
Communities are getting involved by joining the class and donating Armenian books to their respective libraries. Bottom line: We're teaching what the history books are not in compliance with mandated educational standards.
I do not know how the coming year will impact these schools or how these students will react to the Armenian Genocide. Hopefully, they will use it to restore some calm in their lives and prevent future genocides from repeating themselves.
What I do know is this. By these students, we, too, are being taught. And that happens to be the greatest source of educational power we have at our disposal.