Each year as the United Nations observes the International Day of Peace, a group of St. Lawrence University students organizes events and leads efforts on campus to showcase what is possible when people come together to learn, take action, and make a difference. These students are the University’s Davis United World College (UWC) Scholars.
Davis UWC Scholars graduate from one of 18 UWC schools on four continents and then matriculate at selected U.S. colleges or universities like St. Lawrence. The UWC experience challenges them academically and personally, expands their horizons exponentially, and shows them how to build understanding from diversity. The Program provides financial support for their undergraduate educations through institutional grants that support need-based scholarships for Davis UWC Scholars, I knew it would be a good place for me.”
The International Day of Peace is also UWC Day, a moment to celebrate the strength and diversity of the UWC movement and its mission for a more peaceful and sustainable world. St. Lawrence’s UWC students are sharing the occasion and this year’s theme, “United We Can,” with the Laurentian community through a week-long series of events that includes defining what peace means, reflecting on what it will take to make a world that is more united, and focusing on the importance of mental health. Fernanda León Canseco ’22, who attended UWC Costa Rica, is among the St. Lawrence students who organized events for this year.
“In these unprecedented times, we need more than ever to seek collaboration between our communities,” she says. “Amazing things have happened when we come together, and I think that ‘United We Can’ reflects the spirit of conflict transformation and cultural understanding that UWC seeks to teach in all of us.”
St. Lawrence’s UWC Scholars Program now has more than 65 scholars, representing one of the largest groups of UWC students in New York State, and they are among the University’s most engaged students. This fall, St. Lawrence welcomed 22 new UWC scholars from 18 countries, making it the largest cohort in its history. These individuals are now part of a community known for deeply enriching the student experience on campus by playing an integral role in starting thought-provoking programs like the annual TEDxStLawrenceU event. It makes an impact throughout the North Country thanks to Davis UWC Scholars like Aseman Bagheri Sheshdeh ’22, who devised the Common Ground Connections (CGC) cultural exchange project, which aims to foster global citizenship and appreciation for diversity, as well as celebrate the integration of international students, within St. Lawrence’s neighboring local communities.
Lehlomela Mofali ’23, who is also among the lead organizers of this year’s UWC Week at St. Lawrence and who attended the Li Po Chun United World College of Hong Kong, has found special meaning in this year’s UWC Day theme.
“For me, ‘United We Can’ is incomplete, deliberately so,” he explains. “It is for friends, and communities together, to complete it, with any activity that will advance the cause of global peace. As I complete the statement for this year, I say, ‘United We Can fight COVID-19’ and ‘United We Can manage our mental health.’”
In addition to his work on UWC Week, Lehlomela lives the UWC mission at St. Lawrence through involvement with clubs, collaborating with others on various committees, and spearheading new initiatives. The University’s proximity to Canada was among the reasons he chose St. Lawrence, but quickly discovered another Laurentian quality he values most.
“The idea of being able to experience cultures from both countries at will, pushed me towards St. Lawrence. That was before I knew how open and welcoming the community is over here,” Lehlomela says. “[Faculty, staff] and students speak to you and treat you like you all belong to some big family. Everyone is so friendly and willing to help. Now that I [know that], I know that I made the best choice for college.”
As St. Lawrence continues its work to create a culture where all people and ideas are welcomed, valued, considered, and respected, UWC scholars lead thoughtfully by example. When Laurentians of all cultures, backgrounds, ethnicities, and identities seize opportunities to engage thoughtfully with diverse perspectives, they help foster a vibrant, compassionate community while participating in one of the University’s greatest traditions as a liberal arts institution.
“Education is an essential part of one's growth and life experiences, I wanted to go somewhere that I could re-discover myself, my passions and interests, while allowing me to keep building a mindset for community service and a multicultural context,” Fernanda says. “When I learned that SLU had a good balance of all of these aspects, I knew it would be a good place for me.”