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Bayside High teen among city students to meet Mandela

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A Bayside 10th−grader and a Jackson Heights eighth−grader are among a group of 10 students from the five boroughs who traveled to South Africa this week to meet Nelson Mandela, the country’s former president, after winning a citywide essay contest.

Stephanie Chung, 15, a sophomore at Bayside High School, and Sara Clemente, 14, an eighth−grader at IS 145Q in Jackson Heights, left Saturday with eight other city public school students on a flight to South Africa, where they were to be greeted by Mandela as well as students their age from that country.

The students won a contest held by the city Department of Education, which asked them to write an essay on how they can apply Mandela’s lifework to their own lives and communities.

“He’s definitely a role model,” Clemente said of Mandela, a Nobel Peace Prize winner for his work against apartheid, which is an official policy of racial segregation. “I admire that he had the guts to stand up for what he believed. Color is a barrier in society that should be broken down. It has nothing to do with what people are about.”

Chung said the students would meet Mandela, visit museums and engage in discussions with South African students her age during the visit, which lasts through Friday.

“I’d never really expected to go to Africa, so this is really shocking,” Chung said. “I look forward to meeting Nelson Mandela. He’s someone I’ve read about in textbooks and it’s great to have the opportunity to meet him. I think it’s great that he fights for what he believes.”

The trip marks the second nation outside of the United States that the two students have visited. Clemente had previously flown to Ecuador, while Chung had visited Korea.

Clemente’s essay was 10 pages long and included timelines and background information about Mandela’s life, while Chung’s piece suggested the United States create organizations to do volunteer work in nations that violate human rights.

One of the goals of the trip is for the 10 students to figure out how they can apply Mandela’s values in their schools and homes, said Tim Massey, one of the trip’s coordinators.

“Mr. Mandela was a proponent of issues such as peace and reconciliation, proving that one person can make a difference in a country and a world, and these students will be able to truly experience Mr. Mandela’s passion and bring it back to America to share with others,” Massey said.

Reach reporter Nathan Duke by e−mail at nduke@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718−229−0300, Ext. 156.

Posted 6:32 pm, October 10, 2011
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