They were barely through the Fort Pitt Tunnel for their first glimpse of Downtown Pittsburgh by night, when, on only a few hours of sleep, 20 members of the One Young World delegation were traveling to the western suburbs to share their stories and discuss global dignity with students at Sto-Rox High School.
The group, celebrating Global Dignity Day with McKees Rocks and Stowe students last Thursday, was among 1,300-plus delegates representing 182 countries that descended on Pittsburgh this past week to participate in the One Young World summit. They went to the high school at the invitation of Kevin Carter, an ambassador with One Young World who hosts the weekly young men's empowerment program at Sto-Rox.
While introducing the representatives to his students, principal Heath Bailey quoted an Egyptian proverb: "If you want to go far, go together."
He said that all week, students had been asking him why these delegates had chosen to come to Sto-Rox from places like Libya, the United Kingdom, Indonesia and Australia. His answer: "Because you deserve it."
During her presentation, ambassador Ashleigh Rolle, 19, of the Bahamas asked the students gathered in the auditorium to share their definitions of dignity.
She heard answers ranging from "self respect" to "respecting everyone and everyone around you."
"Fundamentally, we are all the same. Together we can do really great stuff," Australian ambassador Rachel Bui stressed.
"As long as you believe in yourself, you can be the next One Young World ambassador. Write your own stories, because you can do amazing things."
The programming was split into two sessions, allowing for smaller, more personal "breakout sessions" with the representatives, during which students were asked to take pencil to paper and discuss dignity.
It was not until the bubbly and seemingly happy-go-lucky Ms. Rolle was ensconced with a group of approximately 20 students in a third-floor classroom did she go on to share with the students her teenage years and how severe bullying had made her feel like an "insignificant little speck" and had almost caused her to take her own life.
"My dignity was taken away from me by those bullies," she said. "... I was an empty shell. The last thing I knew about was dignity."
It took a sincere compliment from someone she did not know to bring her back from the edge.
She said she remembers that person's smile to this day.
"If we all have the mindset, the future would be so bright, with human rights to all people."
When asked how she could help all people achieve dignity in their lives, senior Tamara Johnson of Stowe wrote, "First, I want to help society believe that everybody deserves dignity. I want to make a difference. I want the world to be a better place. I will start by treating people kindly and really paying attention to what is important.
Valuing everything you have and being appreciative is a good start."
The students weren't the only ones affected by this crossing of cultures.
Delegate Megan Hooper of England wrote to Mr. Bailey after the day's events: "Today has inspired me and made me want to do more work with you. I have met kind, caring, motivated, intelligent and respectful individuals today. I have learned that my life experiences, if shared, could make a difference to the direction of many young people."
Additionally, the success of this event has paved the way for making Global Dignity Day an annual observance for Sto-Rox.
"I am finding that our students, our staff and the delegates have all benefited from this experience. Our school is still in disbelief from what happened last Thursday.
We haven't stopped talking about the visit from One Young World," Mr. Bailey wrote in an email.
Global Dignity Day celebrates dignity as the foundation of humanity and is the creation of His Royal Highness Crown Prince Haakon of Norway, professor Pekka Himanen of Finland and founder of Operation HOPE, John Hope Bryant of the United States.
The trio met as young global leaders at the World Economic Forum and started holding observances in 2006.
Sonja Reis, freelance writer: email@example.com.