By Dave Harrison
"What does it take to be a Nobel Peace Laureate? You need three things. One, you must have a big nose. Two, you must have an easy name [to pronounce]. And three, you must have sexy legs."
Believe it or not, those words are straight from the mouth of 1984 Nobel Peace Prize recipient Archbishop Desmond Tutu, whose nonviolent opposition to the apartheid rule in South Africa earned him the honor. Tutu was one of six Nobel Peace Laureates to attend the 12th annual PeaceJam Conference in Los Angeles this past weekend. The event connects young people to Nobel Peace Laureates to promote peace within their communities, but this year's celebration had a much greater goal. PeaceJam 2008 kicked off the Global Call to Action, which aims to create a billion (that's right, a billion) acts of peace in the near future.
"These young people that come to PeaceJam come for a reason. They're here to change the world, and we tell them they can," said Betty Williams, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1976 for her work in Northern Ireland. "One person can make a difference — that's our message to all of them."
With November's presidential election within our sights, there has been a lot of talk that one person's vote out of hundreds of millions can hardly make a difference. However, the support of the Nobel Laureates at PeaceJam has proven to more than 700,000 young people since the first conference in 1996 that with enough determination, each individual has the potential to change the world.
And sexy legs aside, that was Tutu's message as well. "Nobel Laureates don't drop down from heaven. They are just ordinary human beings like you," he continued in his speech to a crowd of 3,000 students. "I want you to know that sitting in this room are future Nobel Peace Laureates."
Aside from Tutu and Betty Williams, the Laureates included Jody Williams, 1997 recipient for her criminalization of landmines; Rigoberta Menchu Tum, 1992 recipient for her advocating of Native Indian rights in Central America; Shirin Ebadi, 2003 recipient for her efforts for peace and women's rights in the Middle East; and Adolfo Perez Esquivel, 1980 recipient for his leadership for human rights and true democracy in Latin America. After an address from the Laureates, each student-led group took turns presenting their respective projects to one of the Laureates. These ranged from projects in local communities (fighting issues such as gang violence and homelessness) to international aid (like the Dollars for Darfur organization) and beyond (such as combating the depletion of the ozone layer).
"When you see these Nobel Laureates and the struggle they have been through, you're like, 'Wow, we have not gone through half of that, and they are still here encouraging us because they think that we're the best thing in the world,' " said Taylor Reed, who traveled with her classmates all the way from Minnesota to attend the conference. "With them behind us, supporting us, that's a big motivation to change our world."