In March of 2006 fifteen Stanley High School students traveled with Gary and Jenette to Minot State University to participate in a lecture series on peace and conflict resolution. There were about 60 people in attendance. Each student spoke from 3 to 5 minutes on the contents, goals and objectives of the class on conflict resolution that they had taken over the past three years. This class had been offered in Ann’s memory. Scandia American Bank and the domestic violence program provided much of the funding for it. Jenette was the instructor, and these are the comments she made as part of the MSU presentation, and later in a final presentation at Stanley High School. She retired at the end of spring term after a career spanning 43 years.
Fourteen seniors who had distinguished themselves in the art and/or conflict resolution classes at SHS received $125.00 Ann Nicole Nelson grants from Scandia American bank at graduation.
This September marks the 5th anniversary of the terrorist’s attack on our country. Among the nearly three thousand Americans who died that day was Ann Nicole Nelson, our only daughter. She was working at her desk on the 104th floor of the North Tower of the World Trade Center when the first plane struck. No one above the 92nd floor survived.
As I watched that tower collapse, knowing that she was in there, I realized how dark the ways of mankind could be. In the four and ½ years that followed, I have realized how kind, supportive and loving human beings can be, as they tried to see us through this tragedy. Some of the people who have helped us the most are in this room today. I shall be eternally grateful to them for helping my family and me survive this soul shattering experience without totally losing our positive perspective.
Among those people are the many from MSU who have been there every step of the way for us, and of course, my students who met with me each working day, and have explored with me alternative ways to resolve conflicts. The words THANK YOU do not seem adequate, but I want to express them anyway.
It comforts me to think that we are not powerless in preventing future 9-11s.
I have come to believe that there are many roads to peace, and that we need a magnitude of strong people to travel each of them.
When we are aggressed upon, as we were in 2001, we obviously need to defend ourselves, and to do so we need a strong military. I have confidence that our leaders have far more information and knowledge than I do as to when that type of action is needed. I do not feel called upon to second- guess them. When they say we do not negotiate with terrorists, I understand. However, as an educator, I ask myself, how do these people become terrorists? What were their unmet needs that motivated them to resort to such brutal violence against innocent people who were going about their daily work routine? Are there ways that we can resolve our differences before young people become suicide bombers and blow up our world? These are the questions that caused us to start a conflict resolution class in Stanley Junior-Senior High School in memory of Ann who senselessly died at the hands of those who believe that violence is the way to resolve conflict.
CLOSING COMMENTS MADE AFTER STUDENTS HAD SPOKEN:
To my students, soon the time will come for you to go and for me to stay.
Most of you will go off to a setting much bigger than the one that we have shared in room 4 at SHS. You will see and experience things that I have never known, because our world is changing rapidly. Change is nothing new. The people of my generation faced the same challenge, for the world was changing rapidly back then too.
When I was about ten years old some men in a big truck came and planted a tall pole in the front yard of our ranch home. Our whole lives changed that day because electricity had come to bring to us its brilliance. No longer would I read late into the night by kerosene light. (A habit, which had caused me to nearly burn the house down on at least one occasion.)
I was 13 when I saw my first television set. It seemed to be a miracle to me as I watched Roy Rogers gallop across the plains on his horse Trigger and shared in the adventures of Lassie. It would be years later when we would actually have a TV set in our home.
I can still feel the sense of wonderment I felt the first time I saw running water come from a faucet. No more carrying buckets of water from the spring to heat on the cook stove for dishwashing, baths and laundry. What would we do with all our free time now that we were to be free of all that backbreaking labor? Of course, now I know that those hours would someday be filled with my struggles with computers and other puzzling machines, but back then I could only see the joyful promise of unlimited leisure because technology had come to free me.
You on the other hand, will live in a world where technology will be a part of your every transaction. You will need to deal with the wars of terror and drugs and all the conflict they will bring to our lives. Global warming and other environmental factors will also be a part of your heritage.
During our time together, I have not been so concerned with teaching you the “right answers”, because the questions and issues will most likely not be the same for you as they have been for me. I have tried to encourage you to think for yourself and to find solutions that will, at the very least not hurt yourself or others. It is my dream that from that vantage point you will go on to create a better world for us all-- world in which no mother can lose her child in the way in which I lost mine.
When we part, my world will become smaller, and perhaps in that place where less multi tasking will be required of me, I will become more organized and less forgetful, but I shall deeply miss your presence. I shall miss your energy, thoughtfulness and kindness. I shall especially miss the look on your faces when a new idea or skill falls into place for you. I will always remember the support that you have given me throughout these years following 9-11----the most difficult time of my life.
Many forces around us are committed to teaching the young people of this earth to fight and destroy life---to deal violently with their fellow human beings. I feel that the entertainment industry is among the chief offenders. Recent studies show how violent children’s television, cartoons and videos negatively affect the behavior of our youth. Specialists state that those younger than age eight are especially vulnerable to this programming, because they cannot distinguish fact from fiction. Research shows that youngsters get about 5 hours a day of TV watching. We have tried to use this powerful teaching tool in positive ways as we used videos to study strategies for bringing peace to this world.
The terrorists that flew those planes that day were young. Many of them were in their twenties. Many of their victims were young. Ann was thirty, which was the average age for the Cantor Fitzgerald financier. Her friend Aaron was of the same age bracket. Her intern, Amy was nineteen. They all sat and worked at the same desk up there on the 104th floor of the north tower of the World Trade Center. They all died together on that fateful day at the hands of Middle Eastern youths.
Since that time more than 2000 more young Americans have died in Iraq and countless others have been maimed. I can’t tell you how many others from other countries have suffered a similar fate, but I can be reasonably sure that most of them too were young. I do not believe the young created this violent world we live in, but I do believe that they will be the ones who will need to resolve the issues it presents. The question remains, -- what are those of us who remain alive going to do to help them? Are we going to use all of our resources to build bigger bombs and faster planes? As I said earlier, I do believe we need a strong military to protect and defend the lives and rights of Americans and those who cannot protect themselves, but I also believe we must work much harder to prevent hate crimes, violence and war.
In 1945 Harry S Truman said, “ If we do not want to die together in war, we must learn to live together in peace.”
Gandhi said if we are to have peace we must begin with the young.
In 1961 President Kennedy said that he realized the efforts toward peace in that time would not be realized in the first 100 days after his inauguration, or in the first 1000, or even during his administration. Never the less he urged us to begin.
If I could speak to these great leaders, I would say to President Truman “It took the sight of my only daughter dying in an act of war to cause me to truly understand the wisdom of your statement and to try to act upon it.
To Gandhi I would say,” We have tried to reach the young.” We estimate that approximately 260 people from early elementary age to young adulthood have shared what we have learned. Seventy-four have received direct classroom instruction.
To President Kennedy I would say, “I realize that our efforts are a small thing in the big picture, and that peace may not be found in my lifetime, but Mr. President, we have tried to begin.”
To our dearest daughter I would say, “I have tried to share the terrible pain of losing you with those around me, so that they will join me in an effort to eliminate hate, violence, and war from the face of this earth. I have tried, for I know that that is what you would want to be your legacy.”