By: David J. Smith, September 15, 2016

I’m always glad to have an opportunity to talk with young people about peacebuilding and their potential as agents of change in the world.   Increasingly I am taking advantage of technology to meet with students, and engage them in conversations on peace.

Matthew Johnson is a colleague who teaches at Voyagers’ Community School, a progressive private school in Eatontown, NJ.   I met Matt a few years ago when I was looking for stories from young professionals who were doing peacebuilding work.  At the time, he was working at the Conflict Resolution Center of Montgomery County, Maryland. His profile is included in my book, Peace Jobs: A Student’s Guide to Starting a Career Working for Peace.  Matt was interested in my talking with his students, and since  I am in Maryland, and a trip to New Jersey wasn’t possible, Skype seemed an ideal alternative.

This morning I talked with middle and high school students at his school about their meanings of peace, and what they are planning for their futures.   Peace has many interpretations, of course, but these students right away recognized that approaches we use in engaging others are the key.   When I asked for synonyms for peace, I got words like “agreement, ” “nonviolence,” and “working with others.”  I stressed with them that it is the journey not the destination that is important.  We need to remember that peaceful means lead to peaceful ends.

I asked these students about their futures.  What were they planning?  Talking about careers in middle school may seem  premature, but my interest was in what was their passion. Could that lead to a career pathway?  Maybe.   The students where interested in writing, animal rights, engineering, and music.   All were passionate about their interests. Passion is important to career (and life) satisfaction.

One boy had completed a project looking at the history of protest music, considering not only 60s artists, but those of today (which frankly, I could be educated on!).   Another student was interested in engaging people with special needs with animals (often abused and neglected). These are important approaches to building capacity in our communities to face challenges, celebrate differences, and raise our voices. (One student had already received an offer for a college scholarship based on an engineering project!)

Many  working in the field don’t have the chance to listen to the voices of young people. It is important to learn about their interests and support their dreams.  Their work will pick up where ours leaves off.