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Peace Studies Class Brings Together New Hampshire Town to Honor Terror Victims
By John Tarleton
LONDONDERRY, N.H.-- Close to a thousand residents of this tranquil bedroom community came together last night to honor the victims of the September 11 terror attacks at a community vigil organized by a class of peace studies students at Londonderry High School.
The gathering, which featured prayer, open-mike poetry, a childrens' choir, solo renditions of "Amazing Grace" and "Imagine" and sporadic chants of "USA! USA!", began at sundown at the high school football stadium. Vigilers sat on cold metallic seats bundled up against a cutting autumn wind. They wore purple ribbons and held candles in memory of the dead. A trio of students sang the national anthem. The crowd then fell in line behind a young marine and quietly marched to the village green.
"They (the students) are seeing their parents reacting in a way they've never seen before. And they realize this is something out of the ordinary," said Mike Miller, who teaches Londonderry High's peace studies course. Londonderry, pop. 23,000, is located off of I-93, 40 miles northwest of Boston.
The peace studies class, which started this fall, was studying the world's major religions when the attacks occurred. The 20 students quickly put aside their regular curriculum to organize Saturday's event. The students contacted newspapers, posted flyers, solicited donations from local businesses and encouraged children in the town's other schools to express their feelings about peace on the posters and banners that decorated the vigil.
"We all want to have peace," said Jillian Rork, a senior at Londonderry High. "Peace within ourselves and peaceful relationships with others. But, we aren't taught anything about this."
Rork, 18, who plays saxaphone in the school's marching band and is the senior class president, organized the peace studies course after listening to pacifist writer Colman McCarthy speak at an afterschool program a couple of years ago. Rork wrote a curriculum for the course and received approval from her principal for it to begin this fall. The class begins at 7:20 a.m., though seniors don't have to be on campus until 9 o'clock.
"You've got to really want to be there," Rork laughed.
"Some of the Kids Have a Sense of Gratitude"
On Saturday, the peace studies students sold buttons, candles, t-shirts, food and raffled off prizes ranging from candied apples to an acoustic guitar. They plan on planting a tree with a plaque to honor the September 11 victims. Rork said they will use the additional funds either to erect a monument or to send to vicitms in New York.
Father Bob Cuoto, pastor of St. Jude's Church, applauded the students for rallying their community. "I think it's encouraging that people could come together without divisiveness to share their hope for a better world as well as their grief and mourning," he said.
Sherry Vaughn moved to Londonderry in 1979 and raised four children here. Her daughter, Jessica, was one of the organizers of a vigil ("Peace by Piece") held at Londonderry High following the April 1999 Columbine Massacre and subsequent bomb threats that closed the school for three days.
"The kids here have so much," Vaughn said. "Some of the kids have a sense of gratitude for all they've been given. And that gives them a compassion that helps them go beyond their egocentrism."
Miller expects the vigil will send ripples throughout the community. "Once your heart is moved, your mind thinks differently," he said.