On October 31 and November 1, UMass Boston’s McCormack Graduate School of Policy and Global Studies hosted its biennial international conference, “Conflict Resolution and Global Governance: A New Generation of Ideas,” bringing together graduate students from a variety of fields to present their work and share ideas.
In addition to showcasing graduate student papers, the conference featured keynote addresses by thought leaders and opportunities to network with practitioners, scholars, and fellow students.
Ira A. Jackson, dean of the McCormack Graduate School introduced Nobel Peace Prize winner and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Jerry White as the keynote speaker. Jackson said, “Jerry is a model exemplar who personifies victim to victor,” referring to White’s rebound from a lost foot and partial leg due to a land mine explosion in Israel to become an insightful government servant who has spent his last thirty years devoted to bringing meaning to his experience.
White gave some honest glimpses into his own non-traditional pathway from preppy Irish Catholic Cohasset to Washington, DC. Calling his South Shore town a “bubble” where he was encouraged to sail, play tennis, and study hard to get into a good school, he acknowledged there was little diversity in his hometown and his lack of global understanding was very apparent when he started college at Brown University.
At Brown, he realized he needed “to catch up quickly” and was curious to learn about other cultures and religions. Enrolling in courses in Judaic studies, his rabbi/professor urged him to go to Jerusalem to learn Hebrew and to walk in the steps of the prophets. At age 20, he took that advice.
There, while hiking in the Golan Heights on Passover break with a few friends, “the world exploded underneath me.” He had stepped on a land mine and his lower right leg was blown off. Encouraged to recuperate back home in Boston hospitals, White chose to stay in Israel because such injuries were “sadly normal there.” He added, “I needed to be around people who understood pain and conflict.”
Spending six months in the hospital outside Tel Aviv, he learned the instincts of recovery and survivorship and better understood the individuals and the nation of Israel.
Looking to build something positive from his ordeal, White chose to dedicate his life to halt the spread of weapons of mass destruction and to build resilience in those affected by violent conflict. To that end, White helped lead the international campaign to ban landmines, earning him the shared 1997 Nobel Prize for Peace.
At the conference, White delivered messages from President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry. Both acknowledged the need for interfaith dialog to achieve tolerance and understanding.
Looking to the future, White said, “It takes all of us to make a collective difference.” With new tools in advanced analytics and a coherent strategic vision, he called for both affirmative and preventive strategies to address today’s difficult and intricate challenges. Speaking to the faculty and graduate students in the audience, he added, “We need more people like you, inside and outside government and academia, to make a difference in conflict resolution around the world.”