Drew’s president-elect, Dr. MaryAnn Baenninger, 10th president, The Honorable Thomas H. Kean and current president, Dr. Vivian Bull
Drew’s president-elect, Dr. MaryAnn Baenninger, 10th president, The Honorable Thomas H. Kean and current president, Dr. Vivian Bull

With religious and culturally-based violence increasing in frequency and intensity each year, it is difficult to imagine building lasting peace in the world, but it is possible through education and reconciliation.

That was the message from former New Jersey Governor, 9/11 Commissioner and Drew’s 10th president, The Honorable Thomas H. Kean, who served as the keynote speaker for the Inaugural Gala for Drew’s Center on Religion, Culture & Conflict (CRCC) on March 31.

Kean spoke to more than 100 guests about how peace is possible, “There are more hostpots of violence in this world today than I remember in this lifetime.  But education leads to truth-seeking. Truth-seeking leads to reconciliation.”

CRCC supporters Dr. Sol and Mrs. Meri Barer hosted the gala at their home in Mendham. Drew’s current president, Dr. Vivian Bull, and Drew’s president-elect, Dr. MaryAnn Baenninger, also attended along with university trustees, members of the CRCC board, and other special guests.

The CRCC presented the Peace Through Truth and Reconciliation Award to Don Mullan, an Irish humanitarian, film producer and best-selling author. Mullan was 15-years-old when he witnessed the British Army fire upon a group of peaceful protesters in Derry in 1972. Years later, he turned his experience into a book, Eyewitness Bloody Sunday: The Truth, which ultimately opened a new inquiry into the massacre and led to a formal apology from the British government and advanced the peace process.

Irish historian and professor Dr. Christine Kinealy presented the award to Mullan. When Ireland was erupting in violence, Don made a different choice, she said. “He was fighting with debate, persuasion and dialogue. Don’s activism goes beyond this one event, and beyond Ireland’s borders.”

Mullan emphasized that his truth-seeking was about creating  something positive and lasting. “It was not about hatred. It was never about being anti-British. It was always about the truth. There are always wonderful people on both sides. When the moment for peace comes, they will be the bridges for it.”

To honor the importance of education in the peace building process, CRCC also presented the Empowerment Through Education Award to I. Leo Motiuk, an attorney who practices environmental law and is the founder of the Afghan Girls Financial Assistance Fund. Shamila Kohestani, ’12, who attended Drew as a result of Leo’s partnership, presented the award.

“Growing up in Afghanistan, I didn’t realize how important education was until it was taken away from me. Without education, a society is incomplete,” Kohestani said. “Leo started with me: one girl and one college. Now there are 30 girls getting an education.”

Since beginning AGFAF in 2008, Motiuk has held retreats at Drew, and is collaborating with the CRCC on a new initiative to connect Drew students with students in Afghanistan for long-distance, cross-cultural learning. “Drew opened the door to Shamila and she walked through and she shined. I like to say: AGFAF, Shamila and Drew… perfect together.” –Cara Bradshaw