Visiting the UN Headquarters in New York City had always been a priority on my bucket list. Because both my parents had worked in the United Nations, I hold this organization dear to my heart. When people ask me why I have traveled so much, my answer is the UN. Because there were duty stations spread out across the world, my family and I have had to move around every four years (sort of like an embassy position). As a result, I have lived in four developing countries where I was able to witness first-hand the ways in which the UN works to encourage development, environmental protection, human rights, and other such critical goals.
When I was notified a couple weeks ago that I had the opportunity to attend the 2015 UN Peace Day Conference at the Headquarters, I immediately signed up. I had already witnessed how UN agencies across the world were trying to implement the Millennium Development Goals that were set to be achieved by year 2015. Now, I wanted to see where the actual decisions were being made. At the conference, I would not only be a flag bearer at the official Peace Day ceremony, but I would also participate in a Youth Forum in the General Assembly where Secretary General Ban Ki-moon would address us himself. Needless to say, the opportunity was one I could not pass up.
Peace Day is a day dedicated to promoting the ideals of peace among people and nations. First established by the United Nations in 1981, the day now occurs annually on September 21st. On Peace Day, countries around the world must recognize non-violence and temporary cease-fires. This year’s Peace Day theme was “Partnerships for Peace – Dignity for All” stressing the importance of civil society and youth in promoting peace across the world.
So on Monday, September 21st, I joined a group of around 15 Rutgers students and our coordinator to board the 6:23 a.m. train to NYC. Once we arrived in front of the tall rectangular UN building, what did we do? We took a selfie…
I stood there and admired the building. Dressed in formal attire, I almost felt as if I were on my way to work. I could not help smiling as I realized that I was following in the footsteps of my parents.
After about half an hour of getting through security and obtaining our passes, we all rushed into the building to find our flags for the ceremony. I ended up bearing the Kyrgyzstan flag. Although we were pretty far behind, we could hear the Secretary General’s opening speech and the toll of the Peace Bell.
The Peace Bell is the official UN Symbol of Peace. Offered as a gift from Japan to the UN in June 1954, the bell is rung twice a year during Earth Day and World Peace Day. As flag bearers, we were told to raise the flags high and observe a moment of silence each time the Secretary General rang the bell. We got to hear the bell ring once again at 12 p.m. once our Youth Forum in the General Assembly had concluded. That time, however, the honor was bestowed upon the Secretary General’s spouse, Yoo Soon-taek, to ring the bell. We once again observed a minute of silence and then recited in unison: “Let Peace Prevail on Earth.” I can clearly remember the excitement I felt at being part of these symbolic minutes.
After the closing of the official Peace Day ceremony, we all hurried towards the General Assembly to get the best seats in front of the Secretary General and the other distinguished speakers.
Sitting down in the General Assembly, I could envisage myself representing one of my home countries in the future.
During the conference, we had the privilege of hearing several speakers share the ways in which they promoted peace on earth. Some of these speakers included actor and director, Michael Douglas, who is also UN Messenger of Peace and strongly involved in advocating disarmament of weapons across the world. Another notable speaker was artist Herbie Hancock, who discussed the ways of finding peace through music. Other remarkable appearances included Messengers of Peace, Mr. Yo-Yo Ma and Dr. Jane Goodall, and the Secretary General’s Envoy on Youth, Mr. Ahmad Alhendawi. Throughout all the speeches, the one common theme was promoting the involvement of youth in decision making. All speakers congratulated us for having attended the conference and stressed the importance of our contribution.
After a few more demonstrations and questions, the Peace Bell rung signaling the end of the Youth Forum. As everyone rushed to take their last group pictures in the General Assembly room, I glanced around at the grand room and promised to myself that I would be back in this room having made a difference in the world.
Our group of Rutgers students have decided to meet up again and discuss ways in which we can implement the lessons we learned at the UN back at Rutgers. I am excited to hopefully come up with ways to make a difference in our community.
Thank you to Jehad Felemban for all the great pictures in this article that he took of our group at the United Nations.