Looking skyward as a white dove fluttered into the distance, about 600 elementary-school children smiled and applauded Tuesday during a ceremony calling for world peace.
The event, held at Riverdale Elementary School, was designed to observe the United Nations’ annual “Day of Peace,” said sixth-grade teacher Paul Portner, who organized the event.
During the 40-minute ceremony, school officials released a large balloon colored to resemble Earth. The balloon ascended rapidly into the overcast sky, carrying with it letters written by students describing their hopes and wishes for a peaceful world.
Standing on a stage adorned with flags from numerous countries, third-grader Joseph Pak read a poem he had written calling on students to behave, learn and treat each other with respect. He concluded, “Let there be peace everywhere and let it begin with me.”
Students also watched a symbolic re-enactment of the recent peace agreement between the PLO and Israel in which two men representing each side shook hands and released a white dove.
David Prihar, 61, of Anaheim represented Israel, his native country, during the ceremony. He told the children: “Even though you all come from different backgrounds, and I can see from looking at you that you do, you shouldn’t fight. We all share one thing--the desire to live together peacefully.”
“You have to start with kids to make peace,” he said later. “When you get to be my age, we’re too set in our ways” to speak and listen to adversaries.
But he added, “You have to start talking to each other, that’s how you get peace.”
Awni Younis, 47, a Palestinian born in Israel, joined Prihar on the stage and told the children that although it is easy to resort to violence, fighting never solves conflicts, it only inflames them.
Younis, a Garden Grove math teacher, added that if students ever become too angry to speak with another person, they should find a third party to mediate the dispute. He hoped the recent events in the Middle East would make the children “realize that anything is possible.”
Afterward, sixth-grade student Annie Phan, 11, said the message of peace should be spread locally because “there’s a lot of violence and too many gangs and a lot of killing.”
Mireya Duenas, 11, also in sixth grade, said the ceremony was important because it touched so many students, including children whose families fled war-torn countries.
She added, “There’s a lot of violence in the world and there should be a day of peace.”