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"It was surreal, a once-in-a-lifetime experience," said Riverside-Brookfield High School junior and North Riverside resident Emily Filec, relating her experience as one of 35 students and five faculty members who were chosen to attend the recent 12th World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates held in Chicago.
While most of the schools were from Chicago, RBHS was one of only eight suburban schools chosen by a distinguished panel to attend the summit. Each day a different school was in attendance.
The day RBHS was present, students were given the opportunity to hear panel discussions with such world leaders as Mikhail Gorbachev, Jimmy Carter, Lech Walesa, Frederik Willem de Klerk and others who have made an impact on reaching out for peace.
Faculty member Angela Ziola said talks given by Kerry Kennedy, who was instrumental in coordinating the summit, were directed at the teens in attendance, emphasizing that everyone has the power to change things.
One of the most moving moments for Ziola was to hear Gorbachev state, "Chicago reflects real America in the world." It was quite effective, she said, noting it was the first time the summit was held in the United States and an honor for the city.
Ziola told of seeing a video featuring many past Noble Prize winners. In the audience was the actor, Sean Penn, who was to be recognized for his work the following day.
Returning to RBHS, Emily Filec, Paul Kraus and Madison Powers talked to fellow students about the summit, while Michael Hornung, Lauren Primer and Stephanie Wolff related their impressions to the faculty.
Filec explained that students used headphones to hear the words of people, through translators, who had formerly only been known to them through the news, movies or in books.
Filec said she felt privileged to be able to attend and much of what she heard and learned she will carry with her to the next school year as president of the school's Student Association.
The primary lesson of the summit on the faculty and the students alike was how we can all effect change in the world, whether on a global scale or in our own corner of the world and be part of a movement towards peace, which in itself is a reward.