Reflections from NJSLC 2016: Building bridges, not walls

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The NJSLC ’16 banner depicting the conference theme, Peace by Piece.

Georgetown University is the 2017 host for the National Jesuit Student Leadership Conference: Set the World on Fire, July 19 to 23. (Conference details are available online).

Our third post in the series of student reflections about 2016 National Jesuit Student Leadership Conference (NJSLC), is by Clara Cecil. In it, she reflects on the refugee crisis and how her NJSLC experience taught her that peace is rooted in developing meaningful relationships.

I was lying in bed at my host home in Paris. I was pouring over the many reports about the then terrorist attacks in Nice, France. I had received a flood of messages from concerned family and friends. I was struggling to sleep as I attempted to wrap my mind around the acts of violence and hatred that plagued so many parts of the world.

The next day, I tried to start conversations with my program professors and host family about the root causes of the terrorist attacks and about ways to promote peace in the future.  My efforts were met with responses such as, “Well, there isn’t a lot we can do about it” or, “We just have to keep going on with life.”  As a Jesuit-educated student accustomed to peers and professors readily confronting questions of conflict and interreligious understanding, I was unhappy with these dismissive responses.

Less than two days after returning from France and still recovering from jet lag, I hopped on a plane to Denver, Colorado for the National Jesuit Student Leadership Conference. It turns out, the conference was much needed. It gave me an opportunity to reflect on my experiences in France, as well as a timely reminder of the importance of my Jesuit education.

Naomi Tutu, daughter of Archbishop Desmund Tutu, delivered the conferences closing keynote speech. She spoke of cooperation among individuals and groups and highlighted the choices we all face; whether to build bridges or walls, to choose service over self-centeredness or to create interpersonal connections or divisions.

Citing an African proverb, Tutu said, “In the moment of crisis, the wise build bridges and the foolish build walls.”  To me, this quote represents a path to peace, something that I struggled to find in France.

It also came to fruition during the conference’s Service Day. My service location was Growing Colorado Kids, an organization that provides leadership and growth opportunities to refugee children through organic farming.  Volunteers personally connected with the children, who joyfully taught us how to work on a farm. They showed us how to harvest, paint and pull weeds. Seeing the children’s happiness while swimming in a kiddy pool or having an ice cream party with new friends, filled my heart with joy and gave me a sense of hope in the face of the refugee crisis.  The experience of attending NJSLC taught me that peace is rooted in taking the time to develop meaningful relationships and to understand different perspectives. A lesson I hope we can foster when Georgetown hosts NJSLC 2017.

Written by Clara Cecil, C’18.

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