7 Nobel laureates gather in Va. for peace conference University stages event as an antidote to apathy


CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. -- That wispy but stubborn ideal "world peace" attempted a comeback here on the cold asphalt outside a college football stadium.

About 600 University of Virginia students camped out all night Sunday in the frigid fall air for a chance to snag the hottest ticket in town -- not for a rock concert or championship bowl game but for an academic conference featuring some of the world's most famous peacemakers.

"I can't believe I just shook the Dalai Lama's hand," Jocelyn Diaz, a 21-year-old senior, shouted at the close of the two-day conference on Friday. "I feel changed by this. You get so caught up with your life, and then you see these people who are making so much of a difference."

In a rare joint appearance, seven winners of the Nobel Peace Prize descended on the campus here and preached forgiveness and a shared responsibility for ending suffering around the world.

By bringing together the Nobel laureates, the university hoped to inspire its politically apathetic student body and others into turning their attention away from material concerns and to the world's victims of war, genocide, ethnic conflict and starvation.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa, who received the 1984 Nobel Prize for his work against apartheid, delivered a rousing speech to a standing-room-only crowd, pleading for help "in realizing my dream, my dream of a world that is more caring, a world that is more compassionate, a world where people matter more than profits."

Jody Williams, the American who shared the 1997 prize for her efforts to rid the world of its millions of land mines, urged students to get involved in causes and help change the things they abhor.

"Don't sit back and worry and don't sit back and cry and don't sit back and wait for the other guy to do it," Williams said. "Join in and make it better yourself."

The Dalai Lama of Tibet, the 1989 laureate, exhorted students to look within and find their generous spirit. "Caring about others," he said, "is a great benefit for the self."

The three were joined by former President Oscar Arias Sanchez of Costa Rica (1987), Jose Ramos-Horta of East Timor (1996), Rigoberta Menchu Tum of Guatemala (1992), Betty Williams of Northern Ireland (1976) and Bobby Muller, an American who represented the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, which shared the 1997 prize. Aung San Suu Kyi of Myanmar (1991) sent a surrogate because she is prevented by her government from traveling freely.

Professors said they thought the presence of the laureates at the university would inspire students and others to think about the world beyond the country's borders.

"Much less time is spent on international issues than 10 or 15 years ago," said Melvyn Leffler, a professor of history. "With the end of the Cold War, our focus has changed."

Many students clearly were moved by the Nobel laureates. "Attending a single event can have a consciousness-raising effect," said Cristina Bull, a 19-year-old junior.

Pub Date: 11/08/98

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