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HIGH LIFE : Teen-Agers' Separate Peace : Leaders of Tomorrow Seek to Make a Difference Today

June 04, 1988|ROSELIE VASQUEZ

\o7 Roselie Vasquez, a senior at Saddleback High School, was one of 35 American teen-agers who, in early May, met a delegation of students from the Soviet Union and Finland for a weeklong summit in Helsinki.

There, they discussed world peace and prepared a proposal--"an agenda for the 21st Century"--for solving world problems over the next century. The proposal was then presented in person to Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev before last week's summit meeting with President Reagan.

In addition to Helsinki, the U.S. delegation visited Leningrad, Moscow and Washington, where they met with President Reagan and members of Congress.

The trip ended in New York, where the delegation was received by U.N. Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar, who accepted its proposal on behalf of the United Nations.

Direct Connection, a San Francisco-based, nonprofit organization that promotes student exchanges between the superpowers, sponsored the trip.

Vasquez was one of 15 U.S. students who met with Gorbachev on his summit trip to Washington in December. Fluent in Spanish and French, Vasquez hopes to one day become a translator and eventually an ambassador.

Setting an "agenda for the 21st Century" is an impossible task for anyone, but proposing ideas and visions from the point of view of today's youth proved to be a very successful and fulfilling experience.

I was one of 35 American student delegates to the Soviet/American/Finnish Youth Summit held in Helsinki, Finland.

The week we spent in Helsinki was the most educational, emotional, spontaneous week of self-discovery I have ever experienced. We stayed at the top hotel of the country (the hotel Kalestatorppa), and all 100 of us sacrificed strolls in the beautiful parks and shopping areas to sit in conference rooms, busily discussing the problems involving the United States and the Soviet Union.

The task of compiling information to be presented in proposal form to Secretary General Mikhail S. Gorbachev and President Reagan was intensified by the language barrier existing between the students of the two countries. If only we could have waited until the last week to sit down and get to work. By our last week together, the Soviets had virtually perfected their English, and such incredible bonds were formed that we had become a family.

It was imperative to key our minds into the purpose of our trip and to create concrete proposals that were representative of the youth from both countries. We had exactly one week before our appointment with Gorbachev in the Kremlin.

I can remember that the atmosphere at our first few general sessions was tense and apprehensive. Each of us looked at one another, wondering what we had gotten ourselves into and if we would ever be able to agree upon seven topics that would then be dissected and elaborated upon in a manner fit for the two world leaders, without whose support our documents would remain idealistic intentions.

We worked from 8 a.m. to 11:30 p.m.--and beyond when the time called for it--taking breaks for food and selected "free-time" activities designed as ice-breakers to allow us to come to know one another on a more personal level.

By the third day in Helsinki, we had finally managed to form seven groups of interest: youth exchange, education, ecology, superpower conflicts, superpower cooperation, human rights and cultural understanding.

We decided which area interested us most, and our seven task groups were born. I joined the youth-exchange group with five other Americans, seven Soviets and a Finn.

There were two pads of butcher paper hanging on the walls at every task-group meeting: one with our ideas written in English and the other in Russian.

The process was very slow and tiresome, but the underlying force to persevere was always there. We were not attempting to change the world through mind-boggling proposals. What we intended, and ultimately achieved, was to express our concerns to our leaders and offer a different approach to solutions from the youth leaders of tomorrow.

Of course, there were personality conflicts that got out of hand at times. There were students from both sides of the globe who lost touch with the "we" and saw everything as "me . . . me . . . me!" But that is only natural when dealing with top student leaders. But after our adrenalin came back down, all of us were able to reorganize our priorities and get back to work on our proposals.

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