"This young man has done more than his part," he school headmaster announced from his podium.
He had called the families of his school together to witness the signing of oaths. Each school in the agreement pledged that its students would not take part in the violence.
Their city had been divided along ethnic lines for as long as anyone could remember. For years, each group had lived in peace, side by side with culturally unfamiliar neighbors. Sometimes, though, a person from one group offended another. When it came to a fight over such incidents, people swiftly sided with their own ethnic group. The incidents escalated. Responses to insults became injuries. Responses to injuries became murders. Murders grew into wars.
In the midst of such a war, a boy in a religious school reached out to the children of other religious schools. He wrote letters asking them to establish peace among the student populations. As he was a student leader, he wrote to the other student leaders, such as they were. One or two wrote back. They wrote to friends in other schools. In a few months, the movement spread.
"It may seem like a small thing," the headmaster continued. "But sometimes peace begins like this. We are planting a seed of peace here and we hope it will grow."
He spoke for a while about the boy, his campaign for peace, and the promising results. He hailed the lad as his best student, his most enlightened leader. He gestured to the boy's family among those in attendance.
"He began this campaign when he was personally free of the violence. He acted solely out of concern for others. But one of his grandfathers was killed soon after. That did not stop him. He did not fail to reach out. In fact, he pressed even harder with the families of the men accused of the murder. He brought them into his peace process. Such greatness of spirit should not go unrewarded."
The headmaster presented his student with a certificate and a signed copy of the multiple-school pledge to stay peaceful. Local news services took their picture. The talked to the boy for a while and asked him questions about establishing a general peace, none of which he could answer. They seemed disappointed.
After the reporters left, his extended family approached him. This included his grandparents, who had mixed feelings about the call for peace.
"Your other grandpa wasn't the only one in our family to die," complained the surviving grandfather. "That first boy you reached out to, his cousin murdered your uncle, my son-in-law. How can you say that you love him?"
"First, it wasn't him," the student answered, award still clutched in his hands. "He hates what his cousin did. He would never commit such a horrible act and for that, it's easy to love him. He wants peace. Like me. For another thing, I wouldn't hate even his cousin if his cousin renounced the murder."
"Only if he renounced the murder?" said his oldest grandmother. She was the wife of his dead grandfather, who had been a kind man and had played chess with members of all religious groups, a fact that apparently had made him a target. When three young men had been arrested for the act, she met them at the police station. She recognized their faces. After a brief conversation, she told them that she forgave them. They had been unrepentant until then but one broke into tears at her sincere forgiveness.
"Just for saying those words?" said the boy's other grandmother, the loud one. "That's too easy to do."
The boy didn't quite hear his grandmothers. His grandfather stood in front of him, so he addressed the man again.
"I remind myself every day to hate the faults of others, not the people," he said. "We can love others and not their moral flaws."
"What a nice sentiment," proclaimed one grandmother for all to hear. "No wonder they are calling you a prodigy of wisdom."
"How sad for you," said the gentle one. She patted the boy on his cheek. "To need such a reminder."