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Four Years, Four World Leaders

From 1995 to 1998, Country Day students and faculty had the privilege of hosting Mikhail Gorbachev, Shimon Peres, John Major, and Lech Walesa

OVER A REMARKABLE four-year period in the late 1990s, Country Day students had the opportunity to engage with world leaders and renowned peacemakers without ever having to leave Charlotte. In October 1995, Mikhail Gorbachev, the former Soviet president and Nobel Peace Prize winner, was the first to visit. According to Et cetera, a parent newsletter at the time, “Mr. Gorbachev was greeted by Head of School Margaret Gragg and a group of students who presented him with bread and salt, an old Russian custom.”

The following fall, in October 1996, Country Day made history by becoming the only school in the U.S. to receive a visit from Shimon Peres, the former prime minister of Israel and also a Nobel Peace Prize winner. From Et cetera: “Peres engaged in a 45-minute question-and-answer session with six students who represented the Upper School at assembly. More than 80 students and teachers from area high schools were also invited to hear the words of a man who has influenced the course of history.”

John Major, the former prime minister of Great Britain, visited Country Day in October 1997. On the way to the Upper School assembly, Mr. Major stopped to talk and shake hands with Lower School students along the way. From Et cetera: “One fourth grader commented, ‘My mom’s not even going to make me wash my hands…that was one of the best moments of my life!’”

Finally, in February 1998, Lech Walesa, the former president of Poland and Nobel Peace Prize winner, visited Country Day (coincidentally on the same day we also hosted Mark Mathabane, author of Kaffir Boy, a riveting account of apartheid in South Africa). Mr. Walesa told the students, “The man on the street can be a greater hero than someone who is famous. I’ve known a lot of presidents and kings, but the common people who struggle are often more interesting and more valuable.”

These visits by world leaders coincided with their speaking engagements to the Charlotte Foreign Policy Forum. Robert Pittenger, alumni parent, was president of that group at the time and was instrumental in arranging the visits.

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