Lauren Lucy Caddell '23
The NCS student body recently heard a lecture on Ukraine in the annual Janet Griffith talk, but it was almost nothing like what I expected. The speaker was billed as an expert on Ukraine–a talented and intelligent graduate of twenty-five years ago who worked in the Ukrainian Congress and in countless think tanks to assist Ukrainian international relations. For some reason it didn’t occur to me until about five minutes into her talk that she was actually Ukrainian. Why she would have been working in the Ukrainian government otherwise I couldn’t tell you.
The speaker informed us that she had been asked to visit us before Russia’s invasion and was as shocked and horrified as any of us at the current situation. I didn’t mind the fact that she was getting emotional over such a topic. What bothered me was the talk itself. After that brief introduction, she went on to deliver what was in essence an advertisement for Ukraine, with the country’s best aspects summed up. “Ukraine has history,” she said. “The city of Kyiv was founded in 482 AD, five hundred years before Moscow existed.” I waited to hear more, for her to tell us what exactly had led to the situation at hand. “Ukraine has diversity,” she continued. “We have an African American bronze Olympic medalist and a Muslim Olympic athlete.” She then showed a video promoting investment in Ukraine, but rather than showing videos of Ukraine itself it featured only stock videos of household scenes and images such as a field of solar panels.
I wondered what she was trying to prove. Rather than showing the unique achievements of Ukraine, it felt like what we were hearing and seeing could apply to any country. Every nation has its strengths, and every nation has progressed over time. Ukraine may be a strong nation, but we don’t need to be convinced that it is worth saving. I’m sure that most, if not all, of the people in that room agree that what Russia, and Putin, are doing has absolutely no moral grounds whatsoever. But it’s happening, and we have to deal with it.
The speaker allowed time for questions at the end, and someone explicitly asked how we as students could help Ukraine, but we got very few concrete answers. She suggested calling our representatives in government but didn’t suggest what to say. Call for peace? Call for American military intervention? Call for an increased U.S. role in Russian-Ukrainian peace talks? I figured she had a strong opinion, but I felt cheated by the fact that she was supposedly an expert on Ukraine and I had come away with no more knowledge than before. Someone else asked an interesting question about racial discrimination for minority emigrants fleeing Ukraine, and she said she was unable to answer this and discussed something completely different.
Everything I have learned about this crisis has been from looking up news articles and reading Politico every morning. There is not a single history class where we’ve discussed it or learned what’s happening. This is a conflict that impacts, whether directly or indirectly, every part of the world. So why are we only learning about Ukraine’s solar panels? I’m not saying teachers should drop everything to teach on this topic, but classes are the most important forum of discussion for students and this is not only an important educational opportunity, but a necessary topic to learn. I don’t expect to enjoy every school lecture, but I do feel that at this time such a speaker should attempt to truly put themselves in the shoes of a high schooler. We want to learn, we just need the means to do it.