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Paving Paths to Peace on College Campuses and Beyond

Paving Paths to Peace on College Campuses and Beyond

By Audrey Lin | Thursday, August 12, 2010 6:20 AM ET

Students across the nation are designing their own paths to peace and service.

shinnyofellows1.jpgWith the end of August just around the corner, college students across the nation are getting ready for a new semester. Some are gearing up for late-night cram sessions or 2 a.m. dorm conversations about the meaning of life. Others plan to spend the next four months dancing all night at parties. But more and more, students across the country are dreaming up ways to make the world better, and they’re pouring their free time into service.

From a twenty-fourth floor office in downtown San Francisco, eight students from across the nation have come together to do just that. As Service and Peace Fellows of the Shinnyo-en Foundation’s Six Billion Paths to Peace Initiative, students from the University of California Berkeley, Seattle University, and Virginia’s George Mason University are participating in a week-long Summer Institute to design their own service projects for the coming semester. But with a unique take.

While many service projects are about engaging the outside world: politics, environment, youth empowerment and beyond, the Shinnyo-en Foundation Fellows are asked to reflect deeply on what really makes them come alive, what it really means to be of service in the world, and how to engage outwardly from a place of inner authenticity.

In the rush of modern day, with deadlines looming and pressures weighing on the shoulders of individuals across all sectors of society, moments of peace and authenticity can be hard to come by. But the foundation’s Six Billion Paths to Peace Initiative reminds us that the power for peace rests in our daily acts. That “peace is every step,” as Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh says.

At the end of a long day of training, David Dotson (above left) a rising senior at George Mason University sums it up, “It’s about connecting external and internal worlds, and recognizing where the two intersect for service.”

Another fellow, Susan Conrad agrees. “It’s really about obtaining a deeper commitment and involvement in service. That it’s not just checking off an hour at a board meeting, but something much more meaningful than that.”

A businesswoman and mother of a 13-year-old, Conrad is excited to embark on this new life chapter of service and peace-building, as she pursues her doctorate in peace-related studies at George Mason. In brainstorming sessions, she plays around with visions of starting a public service center and redefining the status quo of education on her campus. She was inspired after learning about the wide hub of activities at UC Berkeley’s Cal Corps Public Service Center, which housed the first round of Service and Peace Fellows two years ago.

shinnyofellows2.jpgOther Fellows are dreaming up projects around interfaith dialogue, environmental justice, and educational equity. At the end of the week, the students will facilitate small group reflections at the Shinnyo-en Foundation’s annual inter-generational retreat that explores the relationships between Peace, Service and Spirituality. Then, they’ll return to their respective campuses recharged and ready to roll up their sleeves.

The world is changing, and it’s an exciting time to be alive. Six Billion Paths is an invitation to realize that the potential for change rests inside ourselves. That we’re the only people we can control, and peace can be a lifestyle rather than a distant goal.

Photos by Audrey Lin.