Peace Day Programming at GFS; An Attempted Quaker Solution to the War in Ukraine

Updated: Nov 8

By Ethan Young

In light of the armed conflict that has recently emerged between Ukraine and Russia, GFS hosted ‘Peace Day with George Lakey’ to provide an opportunity to reflect on the meaning and application of the Quaker Peace Testimony during times of conflict. Normal classes were put on pause for the morning, and instead, students engaged in a variety of Peace Related activities.


Upper School history teacher Sam Thacker was inspired to organize the Peace Day Programming during the first days of the Ukraine-Russia crisis. Sam reflects,“We had [a] Meeting for Worship the morning after the invasion started, and it was bearing down on me. Meeting passed without anyone sharing. Afterward, the Quakerism Committee discussed possible responses to the war, and I learned that there is precedent for Peace Days and other teach-in-type events.”


After an introduction by Thacker, and a moment of silence, Peace Day programming began with an informational presentation surrounding the current situation in Ukraine. GFS sophomores Mark Doraszelski, Peter Ilyin, and Julian Cheung – in their presentation titled “Ukraine: A Primer” – covered the historical relationship between Ukraine and the Soviet Union and detailed a timeline of events leading up to the Russian invasion on February 24. Doraszelski, Ilyin, and Cheung also responded to questions that had been circulating in the community related to the United States’ involvement in the growing conflict.


Following the student presentation, peace activist George Lakey took the stage – donning distinctive knit blue sweater from Norway – and began to recount his experience as a Quaker activist for Peace. Lakey – who has dedicated his whole life to activism and the pursuit of peace – began to recount the role of Quakerism in global efforts for peace. Lakey explained that Quakers have been pioneers for peace since early ages, and explained that in colonial America, Quaker store clerks were known to be pragmatic, equitable, and peaceful.


Lakey explained several examples of non-violent countermeasures in the face of armed conflict. According to Lakey, couples in Czechoslovakia during WWII embodied “extraordinary nonviolent resistance” by kissing in front of Nazi tanks, deterring attacking soldiers. Shipbuilders in Denmark protested WWII passively by slowing down the production of ships being sent to the Nazis. Lakey attempts to contextualize current events by looking at similar events in the past.

George Lakey speaking to students in the GFS library during peace day programming.

Notably absent from Lakey’s 30 minute speech were many mentions of the current crisis in Ukraine, which was supposedly the topic of his speech. Albeit one mention at the very beginning of his talk when he stated, “Ukraine has been heavy on my heart as it no doubt has been for many of you. My family can tell you that sometimes they find me crying over the morning newspaper. It’s hard for me to watch from a distance because I’m an activist, I like to be involved,” Lakey was relatively silent in regards to the war raging in Europe. Throughout the talk, many students seemed disengaged – a few asleep. Many students remarked that the talk seemed performative.


Succeeding the conclusion of Lakey’s talk, students transitioned to the Meetinghouse for a Worship sharing. The worship sharing was the first time the entire Upper School had been together for Meeting a for Worship since the beginning of the COVID pandemic.


During lunch, students were invited to three optional workshops: Art for Peace, a short story workshop, and a talkback with George Lakey.


GFS is interested in supporting Ukraine in other ways as well. The Community Engagement office hosted a drive to collect supplies for Ukrainian refugees which will be distributed through a Philadelphia organization. Thacker also shared a variety of resources that students and families can use to both learn more about nonviolent action and to provide aid to Ukraine.


The teach in took place 3 weeks after the crisis in Ukraine started, and there is no end in sight. As this crisis continues to unfold, how will GFS continue to support the Ukrainian community?


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