President of U.N. General Assembly discusses world conflict, peace with Mount Everett students
SHEFFIELD -- The current crisis in Syria and the growing protests in Turkey may seem a world away for students at Mount Everett Regional School, but the gap narrowed for them on Tuesday when a helicopter landed in the school's baseball field.
Serbian politician and diplomat Vuk Jeremic, president of the 67th United Nations General Assembly (GA), landed at the rural school Tuesday afternoon, accompanied by H.E. Vladimir Petrovic, ambassador of the Republic of Serbia for the embassy in Washington, D.C., and a fleet of security agents and other distinguished guests.
The GA is the largest body of the U.N., but is second in power to the U.N. Security Council.
The visit was arranged through a sort of Old World diplomacy -- the grandmother of sophomore and Mount Everett Model U.N. member Michael Whitaker knows Jeremic's grandmother.
Through talks with the families and Jeremic's office, the trip was officially approved and scheduled in the early afternoon, in between the president's meetings with officials at United Nations Headquarters in New York City.
Whitaker called Jeremic "a very important person working for us in a difficult world today."
In his final three months of serving his year-long term, Jeremic, 37, the youngest GA president to serve, said he was happy to reach out to his first real high school-aged audience.
Tuesday's goodwill visit blended pomp and seriousness.
Jeremic and his entourage were greeted by the Mount Everett band and treated to lunch and a post-talk reception prepared by the school's culinary department. Jeremic gave both a private meeting with Model U.N. students (who all dressed in suits for the occasion) and a public talk in the school's auditorium.
"As member of Model U.N., we view Vuk Jeremic like other people view a pop singer -- well, not necessarily the kind like Justin Bieber," said Mount Everett Model U.N. President Alexander Valentini, a sophomore.
Joking aside, Valentini said the group strives to expose fellow students to a greater worldview. Last Friday, Valentini said he and fellow member Kosta Casivant held an assembly for the school to explain the U.N.
"We're taking any chance we can get to learn. What happens globally really affects us locally," said sophomore and Model U.N. member Alex Dunn.
Jeffrey Lang, a Mount Everett social studies and history teacher, supervised the formation of a Model U.N. chapter at the school last year after a number of students, mostly sophomores, expressed an interest in international affairs.
Much like devoted pop fans, the Mount Everett Model U.N. group has taken every advantage to get as close to real U.N. action and officials as possible.
In the past year, they've participated in the annual Model U.N. Conference held at Bard College at Simon's Rock in Great Barrington to attending U.N. open sessions in New York as guests of Michael Johnson, a Berkshire-based representative to the U.N. through the NGO Pathways to Peace.
Railroad Street Youth Project of Great Barrington also brings area youth to the U.N. each September for the International Day of Peace youth program.
Some Mount Everett students saw Jeremic speak at this year's World Press Freedom Day and World Interfaith Harmony Week at the U.N. The students said they were thrilled for the opportunity to meet the world leader in person.
"The younger you are opened up to the world, the better off you are," said Carina Alden, who attended Tuesday's event as a Class of 2013 Mount Everett graduate.
Jeremic said he was equally thrilled by both the reception from the Mount Everett community -- which included what he called an "impeccable" surprise performance of the Serbian national anthem by the Mount Everett Chorus -- as well as the depth and quality of questions posed to him from the Model U.N. and student body audience.
The youths inquired about the U.N.'s talks of procedural and organizational reform, its stance on the Syrian conflict, and why it's so hard to accomplish world peace.
"We live in a world that is changing and is becoming more difficult, more diffuse, and more diplomatic than in the past," Jeremic said.
He said his role is to lead the U.N. General Assembly's 193 member countries through its decisions, which address everything from the environment to world health to crisis and conflict.
"Sometimes it's messy and sometimes it takes a lot of time to come to a solution, but it's the only system we have," said Jeremic.
He was critical of the composition of the Security Council, and believes it should be more inclusive and representative of the changing world powers.
Jeremic described the U.N. as being "divided" about what to do in Syria.
"It's a serious and complicated conflict in which it's not easy to determine the good guys and the bad guys," Jeremic said.
In terms of why there's no world peace, Jeremic said, "It's a question for mankind since its inception."
Still, he encouraged students to join the pursuit for peace.
"You gotta be a believer in the better world," he said.
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