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Kettle Run students meet Russian Ambassador

Tuesday, Sep. 16 | By Fauquier Times Staff
His perspective was different. His answers were carefully planned, even guarded.

His every word was food for thought for four Kettle Run High School students who had the unique opportunity to hear the Russian Ambassador to the United States, Sergey Ivanovich Kislyak, speak in person to an audience of 400 at the University of Virginia.

Chad Wright, history and social science teacher at KRHS, took four students from his Senior Capstone class and Model United Nations club, to UVA on Aug. 26 to hear Ambassador Kislyak discussing the crisis in Ukraine and strained relations between the United States and Russia. Attending were Kettle Run seniors Kiana Walker, Shannon McAvoy and Maggie Clinard and junior Tess Vartanian.

“I thought it was interesting to hear the other side’s viewpoint on the current Russian-Ukraine conflict,” said Ms. Vartanian, who serves as the KRHS Model United Nations Secretary-General. “That being said, it was also fascinating to observe how carefully he planned and phrased all of his answers to sound both diplomatic and appealing to the listeners. Overall, I gained a lot of insights not only on Russian foreign policy but also on diplomacy and how an ambassador tries to find a way to appeal to his or her audience.”

UVA’s Center for Politics hosted the event, which was open to the public. A UVA Today news release said that in his remarks the Russian ambassador “painted a picture of Russia as a passive observer” in the hostilities in eastern Ukraine, where pro-Russian separatists are fighting for control.

The release quoted Kislyak, “The biggest problem in Ukraine is that the government in Kiev, instead of talking to their own people, started bombing. And by bombing, they create more and more opposition to Kiev,” arguing that the conflict is not between Russia and Ukraine, but between Ukraine and its own people.

The ambassador said the West cannot appreciate the intense cultural connections between Russia and Ukraine, former members of the Soviet Union. “We know much better than our American friends because Russia is so intertwined with Ukraine. …We have families half in Russia and half in Ukraine. The economies have always been so intertwined,” he said.

Meg Heubeck with UVA’s Center for Politics said she was impressed that students from Kettle Run had traveled so far to hear Russian Ambassador Kislyak.

“It is important for young people to pay attention to world events, and their attendance was a testament to the great education they are receiving from their teacher, Chad Wright. I look forward to welcoming some of them to the University of Virginia in the future,” she said.

Mr. Wright said he was grateful for the unique experience afforded to his students in Senior Capstone and Model United Nations, connecting their geopolitical unit and discussions on the Russian Domain to a real-world perspective.

“This was a valuable opportunity that was created for our students to expand their knowledge of the current crisis in the Ukraine and US/Russian relations,” he said. “It was an honor to attend this public speaking event, and we are very appreciative to the Center for Politics at UVA for welcoming us.”

Student Maggie Clinard said the event opened her eyes to all of the different perspectives in the world.

“It gave me an idea of how different countries can work together to solve global problems if leaders are just willing to compromise on their beliefs,” she said. “It was very interesting listening to the ambassador speak on some of these global issues and how Russia thinks the problems should be resolved.”

Student Shannon McAvoy said she enjoyed getting to see the Russian ambassador and found it interesting to hear a different perspective on the United States and other areas of the world.

“I thought that it was very educational to learn about U.S. and Russian relations from the eyes of a Russian,” she said. “Although Ambassador Kislyak was not very open about some topics, the information he did relay helped me understand Russian opinions on Americans and other westerners. Getting to see the ambassador during the time we were researching Russia in Mr. Wright’s class allowed me to actually be engaged during the presentation because I had already researched many of the topics. This trip to UVA corresponded really well to our classroom activities so I was really glad that I had the opportunity to go.”

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