A lasting message

By Rebecca Heine

This past week, Bridgewater was honored with a visit from Paul Rusesabagina, the inspiration and driving force behind the movie Hotel Rwanda. The story told through the silver screen is that of Rusesabagina and his experiences during the Rwandan Genocide in 1994. During the three-month massacre, it is estimated that 10,000 Rwandans were brutally killed every single day. In a country the size of Vermont, this means that 12% – 15% of the population was killed in a very short amount of time. The film, however, does not focus on the horrific tragedy of the genocide itself. As Rusesabagina described, no lessons could be taken from a film like that; it couldn’t connect to younger generations. Hotel Rwanda was created to be an inspiration, a lasting message for the future.

   “It is about the genocide, but in a different language, to talk to my audience…the future leaders,” Rusesabagina said during the dinner that preceded the convocation.

   Rusesabagina spoke passionately to the packed audience of approximately 650 people, walking us through the events that took place in 1994. He described the terror of having a gun being held to his head on multiple occasions, his own life being threatened because he took a stand. Rusesabagina had been the manager of the diplomat hotel; during the massacre, he sheltered countless refugees and provided for everyone, even while the hotel was under direct attack. He was even offered a chance to be evacuated from the country and refused, sending his wife and children out instead. Rusesabagina described the heart-breaking process of telling his family goodbye and telling them he was staying behind.

   “At that time,” Rusesabagina said, “all kids understood what was going. There was no need to explain.”

   Dr. Jeff Pierson, director of the convocation program, said that he initially thought of bringing Paul Rusesabagina to Bridgewater because many PDP sections actually use the movie Hotel Rwanda when discussing community and global citizenship. Pierson, although he hasn’t taught a PDP section for three years, used the film in his own classes. Several of the students at the pre-convo dinner had actually seen the film as part of their AP History classes in high school. Rusesabagina was thrilled to hear that his work was fulfilling its mission and making its way to the youth of our nation.

   “My message is being heard,” he said satisfactorily.

   Rusesabagina stressed several times during his speech that the main point in his message was not the story of the genocide itself; rather, it is to inspire new generations to be active in preventing such a tragedy from taking place ever again.

   “The genocide took place because many people stood by… (they) didn’t want to be concerned,” Rusesabagina said.  

   His insight into this problem is that it is hard to look out of your own immediate community and move beyond what is known and familiar to see the global significance of events. Rusesabagina challenged the students of Bridgewater to be aware of the world outside of college, recognizing the impact we have on the global community. A particular example he used was the current similar tragedy taking place in the Congo that is being largely ignored in the media. Americans are largely unaware that the minerals used in the creation of our cell phones and computers have sparked a veritable blood bath in the Congo, and the ceasefire called for diplomatic negotiations ended after only two months by a surprise attack.

   Here at Bridgewater College, students are blessed by a safe and comfortable environment in which we are free to explore and develop skills for our future. All that Rusesabagina asks is that the future we pursue is one of worth and compassion, and that we live as responsible global citizens.

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