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An evening to remember
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BOSTON — Reflected in the towering windows of Smith Hall at the JFK Museum and Library, the 10-foot by 12-foot pages of the Big Book: Pages for Peace, were turned one at a time by Groton-Dunstable students and members of the Bookmakers and Dreamers Club for arriving guests to view.

Exhibited in its place of honor, the volume made its public debut during a Gala Fundraising Dinner last week to kick off a planned world tour and exhibit.

Outside of the main dining area, appetizers were served while visitors viewed and bid on silent auction items and others stopped by a computer kiosk to view the entire Big Book: Pages for Peace digitally. This special kiosk was donated by Groton resident Berta Erickson and her children, the Rabuin and Smethurst families in memory of Erickson’s husband, John A. Erickson Jr.

Mirroring the Big Book’s peace theme, the Erickson family added an engraved plaque to the kiosk, reading, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that,” as once stated by Martin Luther King Jr.

Guests were drawn into dinner by WCVB-TV Channel 5’s “Chronicle” reporter and producer Ted Reinstein, who served as the evening’s emcee. Reinstein shared the history of his relationship with Groton-Dunstable Middle School fifth-grade teacher and advisor to the Bookmakers and Dreamers Club Betsy Sawyer.

“Having covered the idea of the Big Book: Pages for Peace project in its early stages, I remain as impressed and inspired today as I was 10 years ago,” he said. “This is a night that many people in this room thought they would never see … myself included!”

“But here we are to celebrate in this special setting,” he said, “the dedication and commitment of Betsy Sawyer and her students — a remarkable teacher and her equally remarkable students — now numbering close to 400.”

“They created the book from an idea and a simple will to create something meaningful,” Reinstein emphasized. “They wrote to political leaders, peace activists and other students, and received thousands of responses, now filling this book.”

“And now,” Reinstein said, “10 years later, it is close to 1,000 pages, standing 12 feet tall by 20 feet wide.” Philosophically, Reinstein added, “Simple dimensions do not define the heart, the soul and the dedication that forms the real spine of this book.”

Introducing the founder of the Bookmakers and Dreamers Club as “…the woman, whose relentless energy, hard work and singular dedication as a teacher, as a friend, and as a mentor,” helped bring the book to life, Reinstein welcomed Betsy Sawyer to the stage.

“This is part of our dream,” Sawyer said. “The journey is here … and we wouldn’t be here without all of you. We’ve been inspired by so many that have helped us. The kids inspire me every day — their energy, their intelligence and their thoughtfulness. …The kids are this book and they want to share it with other kids worldwide.”

Sawyer said, “One of our highlights for the peace club every year is to go to the United Nations and to meet many diverse people. The culture of peace is saying that we all need to work together and it starts within each one of us. The messages in this book have to be shared and my passion is to make that happen!”

Sawyer added, “I’m hoping to be buried in the book someday … I want it on record tonight!”

As Sawyer closed her comments, Groton Dunstable student Alexa Busser came to the podium, delivering a bouquet of roses to Sawyer, saying, “From the bottom of my heart and the hearts of all the kids in the room, we’d like to thank you. You are the book, you are the reason we are all here tonight, you are an inspiration, and you have changed more lives than you will ever know.”

Keynote speaker Ambassador Anwarul Chowdhury was introduced by Reinstein, who described the ambassador as, “A champion for sustainable peace and development and ardently advancing the cause of the global movement for the culture of peace that has energized civil society all over the world.”

“I am absolutely delighted to be tonight’s keynote speaker at the global launch of the world’s biggest peace book!” said Chowdhury. “The initiative and interest that you have taken today at the prestigious JFK Library will go far beyond just being an evening event — it will transform individuals. This book will be making the contribution not only in the city of Boston, known for its intellectual leadership, but also in many other parts of the world.”

Smiling, Chowdhury said, “I am really impressed by the turnout. The friends of the Biggest Book have all earned my deep gratitude for this event, and special thanks go to Betsy Sawyer.”

Chowdhury gave special thanks to the “young and bright students who have been guided by Betsy over the years at the GDRMS for their steadfastness and their sincere commitment to this dream-like, one of a kind, mind-challenging project.” He acknowledged that the contribution of the students has shown us that, “nothing is impossible!

“And of course, the main inspiration in all of you has always been one word: peace,” he said. “Peace is integral to human existence. We need to focus on keeping the culture of peace in our lives because true peace, in its totality, is to stop oppression, injustice and neglect. The quest for peace is as old as human history.

“We need to learn to relate to one another without being aggressive, without being violent, without being disrespectful, without neglect and without prejudice,” he said. Quoting a saying commonly attributed to Mahatma Gandhi, Chowdhury told guests, “Be the change you want to see in the world.”

Emphasizing that women, “one half of the world’s 7.2 billion people,” are “marginalized,” Chowdhury said, “there is not chance for our world to get sustainable peace in the real sense unless women are engaged in advancing the culture of peace, equally with men, or sustainable peace will continue to elude us.” He continued, “Women have proved instrumental in building bridges rather than walls.”

Chowdhury introduced a video message from Secretary General of the United Nations Ban Ki-moon. Chowdhury quoted Ban Ki-moon as stating, “A key ingredient in building a culture of peace is education. Through education, we teach children not to hate; through education, we raise leaders who act with wisdom and compassion; through education, we establish a true lasting culture of peace.”

“Congratulations to all of you for your part in the Big Book: Pages for Peace project,” Ki-moon said. “At 12 feet high and 10 feet wide, it truly lives up to its name. Now you have 3,500 messages from around the world, and with mine, you now have 3,501!”

“You should all be very proud of what you have created,” he said. “The Big Book shows that your generation can make a real difference. Your peace club is an inspiration to the world. Please keep raising your voices in big ways to bring big changes. Let us work together to build a better, more peaceful world for all.”

Book designer Joan Paley said, “The messages written by Betsy’s students and others are thoughtful and simple, but powerful.” Quoting comments from some of the submissions, she shared, “Peace to me is like a free bird on a sunny day,” and “Peace is the place where your soul sings,” as well as a comical line that resulted in laughter, “Make a pie, not war!”

Closing the night, John Feal of the Feal Good Foundation told Sawyer, “I’m here to talk about you and the kids and the book. When I came to Groton the first time, I was in awe. The welcome I and the 9/11 First Responders I brought with me (received) was enormous. It was therapy for us.”

Asking Sawyer to come up and sit in a chair centerstage, Feal said Sawyer had recently called him and asked, “How do you do it?” Feal told her, “I surround myself with good people.”

Reaching his hands out to the crowd, he said to Sawyer, “Look at what you did tonight, you surrounded yourself with good people!”

Feal said, “I’m friends with these kids now — these kids who are going to make a difference in the world.”

To Sawyer, he emphasized, “You, not the book, you are responsible for that! This book represents peace and hope and tolerance,” he said.

In closing, Feal said, “tell your friends about this project. Groton will make the rest of the world believe what we all believe here tonight.”

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