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Thursday, March 22 News

Human rights advocate receives alumni award

Speaking to a crowd of about 300 children at the New Canaan Country School Jan. 10, Katherine Ward, a human rights policy advocate, compared bullying to acts of war.

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"Is it really that far to bully someone and to dehumanize many?" she asked.

Ward, who graduated from the NCCS in 1979, returned to her alma mater last week to receive the 2014 Country School Alumni Award.

Having worked on major international conflict policy issues, including conflicts in Asia, Africa, Iraq and the Balkans, as well as AIDS crises, Ward told children that degrading a fellow student is no different than starting a war.

"This stuff doesn't start big. It starts small," she said.

Ward, who now lives in Germany, works as a freelance editor of publications related to human rights, war crimes law and international crisis response for organizations like InterAction and the Bureau for Crisis Prevention and Recovery.

Ward once led human rights investigations in Cambodian refugee camps in Thailand. Some of her most recent work includes Syria's civil war and the conflicts in South Sudan.

Stephanie Zeigler, president of the school's Alumni Council, said Ward is a great example of the country school's mission.

"The essence of the award is to honor those who make a difference in our community," Zeigler said. "But (with Ward), we're talking about making a difference in the world."

In 2000, Ward was selected as one of 15 members of the 36th class of White House Fellows by the bipartisan Commission on White House Fellowships.

She was assigned to the United States Mission to the United Nations. She's also served as liaison to the war crimes tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and helped to initiate the Kosovo War Crimes Documentation Project.

Ward also worked with the Rwandan government, which resulted in the trial of an alleged hate-radio leader.

After a short speech by Ward, students from grades 5 to 9 asked questions. Topics included war and school shootings, among others.

"I thought the kids asked great questions," she said. "They seemed very thoughtful. It's great to be back and see the kids so engaged."

Ward also asked the children not to make assumptions about those they don't know.

She said children should try to understand the roots of prejudice and stereotyping and to be careful with the language they use.

Ward, who said she is used to speaking in colleges, said NCCS was the youngest group to whom she's ever spoken.

Ward comes to New Canaan about twice a year to visit her parents. The last time she lived in town was in 1994.

She has a master's degree from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, a doctorate from University of Chicago Law School and a bachelor's degree in East Asian Studies and Soviet Studies from Yale University.

Ward reminded the children to always be themselves.

"Take your own journey," Ward said. "Remember, no one is quite like you. Your path is yours, it's nobody else's."

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noliveira@bcnnew.com, 203-330-6582, @olivnelson

Nelson Oliveira|Education/general assignment reporter