Celebrating Betsy Sawyer Day
by Michael Suchecki
On September 21, 2016, dozens of middle schoolers marched down Groton’s Main Street after classes let out. They were on their way to the Prescott School for the community-wide ceremony in honor of their late teacher and fellow peacemaker, Mrs. Betsy Sawyer, who lost her battle with Leukemia in April, 2016. The Groton and Dunstable Boards of Selectmen made proclamations formally designating September 21st, International Day of Peace, as Betsy Sawyer Day in Groton and Dunstable.
This community ceremony downtown was one of four celebrations of her life and legacy that day, and commenced with the ringing of a Peace Bell. It featured presentations from many members of the community. Groton was represented by Town Selectman Joshua Degen, who read the proclamation stating in Groton that the International Day of Peace is Betsy Sawyer Day. High School Peacemakers Jen and Lauren Thorburn each shared what Betsy meant to them and the Peace Club, and Groton-Dunstable Superintendent Dr. Kristan Rodriguez recited an original poem written for the occasion. Middle School Principal James Lin added a kind tribute, and State Representative Sheila Harrington read a Resolution in Betsy’s honor passed by the Massachusetts House of Representatives before the Groton-Dunstable High School Chamber Choir concluded the ceremony with a beautiful performance on the steps of Prescott Building.
At this event the peacemakers were honored to be joined by 9/11 First Responder and founder of the FealGood Foundation John Feal and former Ambassador and United Nations Under-Secretary-General Emeritus Anwarul Chowdhury, who has made tremendous strides in the fight for women’s equality worldwide and his work with and for third-world countries.
Earlier in the day Ambassador Chowdhury visited the High School to headline a dynamic roundtable discussion about Peace and Betsy’s legacy, provoking questions from and engaging in discussion with nearly twenty of the older high-school Peacemakers. Afterwards, he made a presentation at the Middle School to the students, speaking alongside Mr. Lin and current Bookmakers & Dreamers club leader Dianne Repaal. Middle School peacemakers Arlena Bourque, Jenna Koch, Anna Kubick, Abby Flynn, and Abby Schuster all presented select poems from The Big Book, while Katherine and Jillian Suchecki spoke about the legacy Betsy left and the teacher, friend, and role model she was to them all.
The culminating event of the day took place in Shirley, Betsy’s hometown: The First Annual Betsy Sawyer Day Banquet. The Pages for Peace Foundation, alongside the Sawyer and Guercio families, hosted the evening event in the historic concert hall of her family’s restaurant, The Bull Run. After mingling with other guests and having the opportunity to partake in a silent auction, attendees sat down for a three-course meal prepared by the Bull Run’s best chefs. Guests had the opportunity to view a short video about the project before hearing from one of Betsy’s daughters, Ali, who acted as the Master of Ceremonies.
Banquet speakers included middle school students Abby Schuster, Madelyn Kelly, and Ryan Mosscrop giving an update about what the club is working on. This was followed by a speech by the newest and youngest member of the Board of the Pages for Peace Foundation, Student Representative Michael Suchecki, who spoke about Betsy and how she taught that peace cannot be something you merely hope for, but rather something you fight for. Original Peace Club member Drew Gentile spoke about what he gained from his time working with World Merit at the United Nations early in September, and how in reality peace is simple. At that point Ambassador Anwarul Chowdhury and John Feal both made keynote presentations, with the Ambassador speaking about his commitment to student-led peace projects, women’s rights, and sharing a personal anecdote about Betsy and the book. John Feal spoke about the importance of the book, his relationship with Betsy, and his commitment to seeing the book make it to phase II: the spreading of its messages of peace and, of course, the world tour.
Finally, the banquet participants got an opportunity to hear from Kate Sawyer, Betsy’s other daughter, who shared a bit about her mom and an anecdote with the audience before Betsy Sawyer Day was formally ended by Pages for Peace President Susan Willcox and Vice President Anne Polaski with upcoming news about the Big Book’s future and the ringing of the Peace Bell to close the evening.
For more information about the Pages for Peace Project, visit PagesForPeace.org where you can sign up for the newsletter. In the words of Betsy Sawyer, “Once a Peacemaker, always a Peacemaker.”