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Bereans Gather for Vigil

Berea faculty, staff, students, and community members all gathered together Wednesday, March 19 for a solemn vigil marking the five year anniversary of the war in Iraq.

Students gathered together at Union Church to commemorate and mourn the fifth year of the war in Ira

Mike Rivage-Seul, the director of Peace and Social Justice Studies at Berea, welcomed everyone to the event and introduced the panel of people to be presenting information. Recent Red Foley winner Ashley Long opened with the song “Let there be peace on Earth,” her poetic voice giving new breath to the old hymn.

President Larry Shinn offered his own reflections on the war, stating that he wanted to “reflect on the casualties of the war.” To Shinn, "casualties" were more than just the dead, but also those who were wounded and those who came back with mental illnesses. According to the information he provided, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) affects many of the returning soldiers. He also stated that Iraq's "future is a casualty of war.” More than 150 billion dollars has been spent on the war, which means that the funding for many public services in our country has been cut. All of these services that have suffered budget cuts, such as health care, education and income assistance “have too become casualties of this war,” according to Shinn.

Alex Gibson, president of the Student Government Association (SGA) shared with the audience “Why I am Opposed to the War in Vietnam” by Dr. Martin Luther King. Gibson channelled powerful statements by King, quoting, “there comes a time when silence becomes betrayal” and “this war is unjust and evil.” His words were inspiring and people across the audience were nodding their heads in agreement, some with tears in their eyes.

While the speakers inspired emotion, it was the reading of the names of reported casualties of both Americans and Iraqis that caused people in the audience to grab their tissues and blot their eyes. Stephen Pulsford and two international students from the Middle East took turns reading the names. This was truly an emotional event and the majority of the audience had eyes filled with tears. The students were unable to read all the names of the Iraqis killed, to do so would have taken many hours.

Meta Mendel-Reyes, professor and director of CELTS, offered reflections as to what has been lost in the war. She asked the question of the audience, “What might their lives have been if they would not have been killed?” She also talked about how casualties and deaths in wars affect everyone, stating, “The fabric of life is woven with small threads.” Through the death of a death of a family member, the birth of a child, the houses being built, the vows being exchanged--all of these are lost when death takes someone away. The dead are not the only ones who suffer.

The event closed with everyone standing shoulder to shoulder in true Berea fashion, some holding hands, and singing “We Shall Overcome.” The event was a success, according to Mike Rivage-Seul. “The reading of names from the students from the Middle East was wonderful, inspiring, and moving,” he said. Larry Shinn was “very pleased with the number and diversity of the people in attendance;” the homogeneous mix of community members, student, faculty, and staff brought a new kind of diversity not seen in many programs hosted by the college.

The Memorial and Vigil was sponsored by the Berea College Peace and Social Justice Department and the Campus Christian Center.

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