GROTON -- It may have been pouring rain outside, but the sunniest of celebrations took place inside the Groton-Dunstable Performing Arts Center Saturday, where several hundred guests saw the curtains pulled back to unveil the 12-foot-tall, 20-foot-wide (when fully open) Big Book: Pages for Peace for the first time. Bookmakers and Dreamers Club Adviser Betsy Sawyer, student speakers and guest speakers whose lives have all been touched by the Big Book shared their incredible, extraordinary story.
While the various stages of this story have been publicized several times over the past eight years, it is worth reading one more time. It is fascinating, it is remarkable, and it makes the quaint, small towns of Groton and Dunstable that much bigger on the map of the world.
As guests were seated, a rolling slide show presented events from the past eight years, including images of the students writing letters and stuffing envelopes in the "Peace Room" which is home to a world map identifying locations of current conflicts that the kids have learned about. Other slides included photos from field trips, student presentations, guest speakers, trips to the United Nations, students scanning and laying out pages for the book, and finally, printed pages, hole punching, binding construction, and setting up of the display stand for the unveiling of the Big Book.
Eleven seniors who have been members of the Bookmakers and Dreamers, including Meaghan Biggs, Ben Chilcoat, Peter
In her opening remarks, Sawyer explained how the Big Book came about. "During the first few meetings of the Bookmakers and Dreamers after-school club, we talked about writing books. As we discussed ideas for themes, the kids proposed a comic book-type story about talking veggies and a talking refrigerator!" Sawyer chuckled.
As the meetings progressed, the kids started to discuss making a book that could get into the Guinness Book of World Records, and researched the necessary criteria. Deciding that they wanted to make the biggest book in the world, they found out it had to be just like a real book, with a binding, and with pages that could turn. They also found out just how big it had to be in order to break the Guinness World record, and decided, at that time, to make it 10 feet wide by 12 feet tall.
Getting back to the theme of the book, Sawyer said, "I told them that a big book should make a big statement," and they started to discuss big topics. It wasn't long after the events of Sept. 11 and the kids shared their thoughts and fears about safety and living in a peaceful country. "These thoughts weighed heavily on their minds," Sawyer stated.
They decided to make their book about how people around the world viewed peace -- the meaning of it, the existence of it and the possibilities for it. They began a letter-writing campaign, asking questions. What is world peace? Will there ever be world peace? Where do you see the world in 20 years? What can kids do to help create a more peaceful world? What have you done to help create peace in your lifetime?
The kids sent out letters to Nobel Peace Prize-winners, world leaders, public figures, family members and other kids with the hope of hearing from them, and the responses began to pour in. They received over 3,000 letters, poems, songs and artwork from the Dalai Lama, Nelson Mandela, Maya Angelou, former President Jimmy Carter, the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Peter Pace, celebrities such as folk singer Pete Seeger and skateboarder Tony Hawk, the Khartoum American School in Sudan, their friends, refugees, veterans, family members and other students from around the world.
As she spoke, Sawyer listed the skills to which the kids were exposed, having worked on various components of the Big Book project: writing, research, geography, history, current events, public speaking, math, engineering and learning about different cultures. They had to prepare PowerPoint presentations to share their story as invitees to the United Nations International Day of Peace in New York, in front of UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moo and UN Messengers of Peace Jane Goodall, Elie Wiesel and Michael Douglas.
They met members of the 9/11 First Responders FealGood Foundation and learned about the impact of terrorism on the last 10 years of their lives and the citizens of New York City, and they ran into actor Rob Lowe, who took an interest in their project and stopped to speak with them at Columbia University. They hosted speakers from Cambodia (a survivor of the Khmer Rouge), Africa and Japan who all had endured hardships in their lives as a result of war or anarchic ruling parties.
Having received so many responses over time, the club got organized. Parent volunteers coded the incoming documents and categorized them to go into various chapters in the book. Other parents worked with club members to scan the documents onto a hard drive and to design the layout of the pages of the book.
Corporate partners came into play, bringing incredible, unexpected interest, commitment and contributions of time, talent and financial support: Joan Paley, author and illustrator, who has donated her time to put the kids' layouts into a professional format, adding colored borders and complimentary themes; Dupont, donating 4,000 yards of Tyvek printing media for the book; Material Concepts of Philadelphia, who cut the nearly 3-mile-long roll of Tyvek into 15 more manageable, smaller rolls; EFI VUTEk of Meredith, N.H., supplier of over $100,000 of ink to print the book; UniGraphic of Woburn, who print the entire book at cost; and financial supporter Bemis Associates of Shirley, a manufacturer of thermoplastic adhesives and specialty films.
Relationships were built with the UMass Lowell Francis School of Engineering, Dean John Ting and Linda Harrington, who guided the design of a quarter-sized prototype page-turner for the books with their engineering students
Graduates of UMass Lowell and professional engineers Mike Gagnon and Kierston Lemoine Gagnon, who previously worked on the quarter-scale sized page-turner, are now partnering with other volunteer engineers from several world-renowned, high-tech New England companies to develop and fabricate a full-size page-turner. Plans for the full-size page-turner were shown during the June 2 event.
Of equal importance, Groton residents Ebi and Desiree Masalehdan, Earl Carter and Don Black surprised the members of the Bookmakers and Dreamers Club with their interest in helping fundraise, construct the binding and a stand for the book.
On the morning of the unveiling ceremony, Sawyer found a hand-written note on her desk. It was from club member who wrote, "The only good is knowledge and the only evil is ignorance," from the Greek philosopher Socrates. "This is why we can't stop doing this!" Sawyer exclaimed, referring to all the good the club members have acquired from their years of working on the Big Book.
The unveiling program, funded by a grant through the Groton-Dusntable Education Foundation, hosted keynote speakers including state Rep. Sheila Harrington, 9/11 First Responder John Feal and fellow member Capt. Michael McPhillips of the FealGood Foundation of New York, Groton resident Bart Kulesz, vice president of customer service for EFI Inkjet Solutions, Selectman Josh Degen, and Ted Reinstein, correspondent for Boston's WCVB TV's "Chronicle."
Feal and the FealGood Foundation presented Sawyer with a $10,000 check to help with the expenses of printing the remainder of the book.
Kulesz told how he was inspired by the Bookmakers and Dreamers. "The gifts Betsy has given to these kids, her energy, her dedication, her commitment and the fact that she has kept her eye on the finish line has allowed this dream to come true."
Reinstein was struck by the energy and vibrant sense of purpose he saw in the kids, saying. "When I was first exposed to this project, I told my peers, 'This ain't gonna happen,' but I couldn't tell you how happy I am to have been so wrong about a story." He said his mom was a teacher, and that if she had had the opportunity to meet Sawyer, she would've said, "This is what being a great teacher is all about."
And then of course, there were the numerous Pages for Peace Board members and parents who worked behind the scenes to help the students accomplish this feat that Sawyer wanted to recognize. As the names of the volunteers were introduced, Sawyer said, "We couldn't have done this without the help of so many of you," including her family members and her husband, Charlie.
With the story told and the thank yous completed, local robotics manufacturer iRobot of Bedford brought a PacBot to the event to assist with the dramatic unveiling of the biggest book in the world about peace. With the PacBot pulling the curtain back on one side, and Sawyer and Joan Paley grabbing the curtain on the other side, the enormous Big Book: Pages for Peace was unveiled.
There was great applause, and then McPhillips had the honor of turning one of the pages of the book for the audience to see. Sawyer asked all of the volunteers to come up on stage to join in the celebratory moment.
The final chapters of the Big Book: Pages for Peace will continue to be printed, cut, and hole-punched over the summer. Once the book is completed, the club wants to move forward with its final goal of displaying it in museums for other children to see. Fruitlands Museum in Harvard has volunteered to display the book locally, the club has been invited to have it displayed at the JFK Museum in October, and Carter has offered to display it in his presidential library in Georgia. A key part of its museum display is to have the automated page-turner so that the public can actually see the individual pages of the book turning.
The 188 students in the Bookmakers and Dreamers Club, with Sawyer, know firsthand that with perseverance, hard work, and a team mentality, dreams really do come true. As Reinstein said, "This is your greatest legacy. Other kids, facing the difficulties of making their dreams come true someday will say, 'They did it...we can do it, too!'"
For information regarding the Big Book: Pages for Peace Project, visit www.pagesforpeace.org and become a fan or follower on Facebook or Twitter @ Big Book: Pages for Peace Foundation.