Former U.S. Envoy and Sen. George Mitchell Speaks at Drew
Receives Peacebuilder Award from school’s Center on Religion, Culture & Conflict.
May 2016 – At Drew University, former U.S. Peace Envoy and Sen. George Mitchell spoke convincingly about macro issues like immigration and globalization and how they affect America.
Several times, his audience at the annual gala of Drew’s Center on Religion, Culture & Conflict applauded in consent. Attendees were downright rapt, however, when Mitchell turned personal and reflected on his parents—immigrants from Ireland and Lebanon who worked hard to create opportunities for their five children.
At one point, Mitchell recalled sitting down with his father and mother on the morning that he was leaving for college. His mom, a worker at a textile mill, had just returned from a night shift, caked with lint and grease. His dad, a janitor, told him, “You’re a smart young boy and I know you’re going to do well. But … I want you to take a good look at your mother right now and take a good look at me. And wherever you go, whatever you do, don’t you ever forget where you came from.”
In a single short anecdote, Mitchell distilled the essence of America—a land of opportunity for all, regardless of origin. And while his parents weren’t highly educated, they instinctively understood the ideals of their adopted homeland. It’s a lesson that remains with the global statesman today.
Before speaking, Mitchell received the CRCC’s Peacebuilder Award, given annually to men and women who work to end conflict and build bridges between peoples—a core aim of the Center, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary. About 100 gathered at Crawford Hall for dinner and Mitchell’s talk—the centerpiece of the evening.
Preceding Mitchell on the dais were Drew President MaryAnn Baenninger, Barbara Jones, the Consul General for Ireland, and Jonathan Golden, director of the CRCC. In addition, two CRCC students, Engy Gadelmawla and Hannah Kohn, opened and closed the event by thanking donors.
Mitchell serves as an exemplar for Drew students who aspire to work in careers where they can help build peace. Alumni are another inspiration: the gala included a 10th anniversary “Peace through Perseverance” exhibit featuring graduates who work in peace-building.
During his address, Mitchell, renowned for mediating the talks in Northern Ireland that produced the 1998 Good Friday peace accord, mentioned dark chapters from America’s past—including the passage of a ordinance in 1906 that prohibited any child of Japanese origin from attending San Francisco public schools—as if to say, if we’re not careful, this could happen again.
In addition, the former Senator underscored the importance of using knowledge to tackle problems such as climate change. “It is truly shocking that so many in our country—including some of our leaders—deny the existence of global warming and oppose efforts to deal with it,” said Mitchell. “There is room for reasonable debate on the best mechanism to deal with that. But to deny its existence, to claim that it’s a hoax perpetrated by someone else, is to deny science.”
He ended his talk with another personal story, this time about his mom returning as an adult to the village in Lebanon where she grew up. And while she was enchanted to be home again, she spoke effusively to villagers about America, illustrating how grateful she was to have immigrated there.
“You should see America,” she told them, with a smile and tears in her eyes. “It’s so beautiful—the oceans, the mountains. Even the flowers smell better.” It was exactly how she described Lebanon to her children when they were young.