Claire Queenan was overcome by emotion in reflecting back on the talk she just heard from author, activist and screenplay writer Loung Ung in the Tully Family Auditorium-Gymnasium at The Ursuline School in New Rochelle March 14.
Ms. Ung, co-screenplay writer of the 2017 Netflix original movie of her memoirs, “First They Killed My Father,” spoke as part The Ursuline School’s sixth annual Global Education and Serviam Symposium, which is exploring global displacement through the curriculum and special presentations.
“I’m sick of the hate. I think it’s a good time to join together to have some peace,” the senior at The Ursuline School, told CNY.
Ms. Ung is a survivor of the Cambodian genocide that killed 2 million Cambodians by starvation, disease and execution in the 1970s. Her parents, two sisters and 20 other relatives were among the victims. Still a child, she escaped by boat with an older brother and his wife to Thailand in 1980 and remained in a refugee camp for five months before coming to the United States.
Ms. Ung discussed the importance and personal meaning of peace, quoting former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, who said, “It isn’t enough to talk about peace. One must believe in it. And it isn’t enough to believe in it. One must work at it.”
Ms. Ung, a 2018 recipient of the Eleanor Roosevelt Val-Kill Medal in Hyde Park, served as a spokesperson for International Campaign to Ban Landmines when it was the 1997 winner of a Nobel Peace Prize.
“As an activist, I believe in sharing stories and hopefully encouraging people to take action, and to realize that peace is an action,” Ms. Ung told CNY. “It is something we need to commit to. We need to work on. It is not something we’re waiting for our president, our senator or our religious leader to grant it or pass laws about it. It is something we need to do on a daily basis.
“Peace is an action and activism is a muscle. Like any other muscle, the stronger you use, the stronger you’ll get. The stronger you get, the more differences you’ll make. The more differences you make, the more change you’ll create. And that will make our world better for all of us.”
Students said they watched the film and read some of Ms. Ung’s articles before they heard her talk.
“She was very inspiring not only as a woman, but also as such a diverse woman who can have such a sense of humor,” junior Maya Zamor said. “After having been through so much trauma, she can still get up and inspire others, and do so many things.”
Leah Varghese, a junior, said the talk inspired her. “In the face of danger and hardship, we should always have a positive outlook on life, just the way she channeled a positive energy,” said the parishioner of St. Thomas Syro-Malabar in the Bronx. “She’s been through war, conflict and death, and she’s still happy and that’s something I want to have in my own life.”
Senior Sofia Bishop is happy Ursuline explores global issues.
“Global issues are really important to me and I’m really glad Ursuline has made that a priority, so it was really inspiring to hear her speak,” she said. “We have students who attend conferences at the (United Nations). It is really embedded into our curriculum. Our school’s motto is Serviam, which means I will serve. I would think global studies and the issues that surround our global community are important to our school community and the students who attend it.”
Eileen Davidson, president of Ursuline, a girls’ school with 800 students in grades six through 12, said it’s become an essential part of the school community to study a global issue each year through the Global Education and Serviam Symposium coordinated by Maria Barton.
“Although we have students who are 10 and 11 years old, you see when they jump up to ask a question, they’re so mindful of these issues,” Ms. Davidson said. “In light of really empowering them as individuals, but also at 10 knowing they can make a difference, it’s important to bring these people to them to hear a diverse set of ideas and actions.”