Yes, it’s hard work, and I’m nervous when I first enter the classroom with a new group of students, but I can’t deny a tremendous sense of excitement and joy as the academic year begins. I consider it a high honor and privilege to be able to help young people understand the complexities of building peace and transforming conflict, and to expand their professional horizons and capabilities.
This year I begin class with a powerful example of how ‘a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world,’ to borrow Margaret Mead’s famous phrase. I tell the tale of Resolve Uganda, a small nongovernmental organization created by recent Notre Dame graduates, which helped to win government passage of historic legislation to end the war in Northern Uganda. In May President Obama signed the LRA Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act. The law requires the United States to produce a strategy within 180 days to end the Lord’s Resistance Army’s reign of terror in east and central Africa. The legislation commits the United States to taking a more vigorous stance against the murderous policies of the LRA and assisting the people of the region to build peace.
Check out their website and the picture of President Obama signing the legislation, … Standing behind the president in the Oval Office, second from the right, is the co-founder of Resolve Uganda, Michael Poffenberger, along with others who helped to make the legislation possible. Michael graduated from Notre Dame five years ago, as did Peter Quaranto, who also played a key role in getting the legislation approved. Both took my course and concentrated in peace studies at the Kroc Institute.
My message to the new students this semester: a few years ago Michael and Peter were sitting where you are, taking this course and others like it that provide guidance and lessons on how to achieve strategic nonviolent change. Study hard, commit yourself to change, and learn how you too can make history.
As professors we like to think we can take some of the credit for the achievements of our students, but that’s a foolish conceit. Michael and his colleagues deserve all the credit for the success of their campaign. All we can say as teachers is that we shared knowledge and insight, and hopefully offered a bit of inspiration, to empower bright and dedicated students to help create a more just and peaceful world.
Not bad that, the opportunity to shape the leaders of tomorrow, a blessed profession for which I am grateful every day, especially in this season of fresh beginnings.