LIVE BLOG: Semester at Sea (Sunday, Dec. 19)

Chronicle Staff

A group of Harvard-Westlake students, accompanied by chaplain Fr. J. Young, are testing the waters of the Semester at Sea program, which is opening up to high school students. The group is part of an inaugural two-week Panama Canal cruise over winter break. Usually, students would spend an entire semester at sea. The group left on Wednesday, Dec. 15.

Chloe Lister ’12 and Vivien Mao ’12 are two of the Harvard-Westlake students who are trying out a two-week version of the Semester at Sea, which is going to be opened to high school students for the first time. They are blogging for the Chronicle about their trip.

Mao writes:

Sunday, Dec. 19

I have yet to hear any speaker quite like Archbishop Desmond Tutu. His pauses, his laughs, the persona he injects into his speeches and the control he has over the energy and emotion in the room was enough to give you goosebumps.

This afternoon, our pre-college program was given half an hour to listen to the archbishop speak and perhaps ask him questions. Our pods, or random groups of students assigned to work together for the duration of the trip, had each come up with two or three questions to ask. I was the spokesperson for our pod and could not be more excited. A chance to speak with Archbishop Desmond Tutu was like a dream.

I have been passing him in the hallways of the ship for the past couple of days and doing everything I could not to run up to him and embarrass myself by exploding with excitement. Seeing his smiling face and graceful demeanor made me want to follow him all day and learn his ways, but I was biding my time, knowing I would get a chance to speak to him.

Nothing I had imagined could live up to what I got. The archbishop began by lecturing on family and togetherness. He spoke of the wonder of how God created everything with diversity because we could not survive without it.

“Why did God not make everyone white? Or black? Why are some people fat and some people stringy?” he jokingly wondered aloud.

Interdependence of diversity allows our species to survive, he said. He used evolution as an example of the planning and complexity that God has when creating. After all, creating did not take only one day. Everyone needs each other. Another analogy he used was an orchestra.

“With all those huge, loud instruments…,” he began before he broke into peals of laughter. His laugh spread quickly over the rest of us as he simply sat in his chair laughing at a joke we had yet to understand.

“With all those huge, loud instruments, there is always a little man in the back who plays the tiny, little triangle,” he said once the laughter had died down.

His acting out the “little man” caused another round of laughter.

Yet that little man helps to complete the orchestra. It would not sound the same if the triangle player did not play at the right time, just like everyone else. We are each important to others’ survival, Archbishop Tutu said.

After speaking to us for 20 minutes, he asked for questions. With my journalistic training intact, I almost shot out of my seat before he asked, even though I was the only one to raise my hand. The competition I had been expecting wasn’t actually there.

Laughing, Archbishop Tutu pointed at me and said, “Yes, ma’am?”

“Hi, Archbishop Tutu,” I said. “I was just wondering how you found it within your heart to forgive the leaders of the apartheid after fighting them for so long. You know, much like with the truth and reconciliation process in South Africa.”

He paused for a while before addressing my question.

“There are two types of justice,” he said. “Retributive justice and restorative justice.”

He explained the differences of a system which only punishes versus a system which works on restoring the bond and relationship between the victim and culprit. It was this idea of the effectiveness of restorative justice that made him understand that hating white people for their injustices was only detrimental to both sides. On top of that, he said, he was not really affected as much by the apartheid. It was those who were truly affected and learned to forgive that are the brave ones.

The archbishop listed several examples of the wonders of restorative justice with direct cases of victims of murders whose families actually connected with the culprits and established a relationship with those who had destroyed such a key part of their life. The stories moved some of the students to tears, such as a mother who told her daughter’s murderers that she forgave them, and hoped that they forgave her too, for she had wronged them as much as they had wronged her.

What Archbishop Tutu said was unforgettable and meaningful, but even more amazing to me was the way that he directly addressed me. Not once through his answer did he break eye contact with me. It was humbling and nerve-wracking to be locking eyes with a man as great as the archbishop. For half an hour I was unmovable, frozen by his direct gaze.

Time wasn’t noticeable, only his answer was. Not a single whisper or giggle interrupted his speech. When the archbishop spoke, everyone listened.

After the archbishop finished answering my question, he had spoken for 15 minutes longer than scheduled. However, following my lead, another student, Alex, raised his hand quickly to get in a question, though the time had elapsed.

“Thank you so much, Archbishop,” he said. “Archbishop Tutu, let’s say we reached this ideal world that you speak of. Well… what then?”

The archbishop once again paused to ponder his answer. The whole room was in suspense as we awaited his reply. Once he opened his mouth, idea after idea poured out of his mouth. He spoke of the humanitarian aid we could focus on if given the chance. We would live in a world where we would need no defense. The billions, trillions, of dollars spent on the defense budget could go towards building houses or gaining fresh, clean water, he said. We could focus on the environment, for after all, where will we live once we have destroyed the world we live in.

His focus was clearly on the young. For the first time in any speech I have ever heard, he spoke with optimism about the potential of the young in the world.

“I am displeased with the media,” he said. “They focus so much on the terrible things kids do. But truly, how wonderful your generation is.”

He said that when he was our age, they did not have internet, and had only marijuana as a drug.

“Nowadays, there is so much more! So many drugs, so much pressure, and who knows what you can find on the Internet. But no one focuses on how most of you do not succumb to the massive amounts of pressure put on you. We certainly did not have half as much pressure to deal with in our day,” he said.

The archbishop stressed the importance of the young taking a stand and fighting for what they believe in. We are, as he said, the biggest hope our world has. The way he spoke made everyone in the room want to step out into the world and change it. His motivation urged us to do something. By the time he had finished, only three people in the room had spoken in the entire hour.

His speech was, to say nothing more, inspirational. His accomplishments are too great to put into words. The way he has fought for his beliefs truly changed the world forever. But Archbishop Tutu knows that everyone can fight for their beliefs just like he has. There was one phrase he said that I will never forget as it seemed to sum up almost everything that he tried to instill in us.

“Do you curse the dark or light a candle? Most of you will be able to tell God that you lit a candle, so go light that candle.”