Larry LaRue: PLU student to take her peace pursuit to Northern Ireland

Staff WriterMay 19, 2014 

Pacific Lutheran University senior Anna McCracken, who has been selected as one of 12 young peace-building scholars for a yearlong fellowship in Northern Ireland, poses in front PLU’s University Center.


When the Corrymeela Community in Ballycastle, Northern Ireland, was created in 1965, the goal was to promote peace-building in a country that had known little peace, and its founders were unusual.

“They were hippies,” said Amanda Feller. “They bought an old castle, and anyone who wanted to come and work there was invited.

“They used to ask only that you make your own bed,” she added. And when you arrived, they’d give you the wood, the nails, the tools and say, ‘There. Now make your own bed.’”

Feller, an associate professor of communication at Pacific Lutheran University, has visited Corrymeela regularly and taken PLU students there as part of a course in conflict management.

One of those students was Anna McCracken, a 22-year-old anthropology and global studies major at PLU — a campus close to her Spanaway home and family.

“I wanted to go to school in Moorhead, Minnesota, but my parents were both PLU grads, and my grandfather, Stewart Govig, taught religion there for 42 years,” said McCracken, a Bethel High School graduate. “I went to PLU.”

She discovered Feller’s courses in the spring of 2012, and visited Northern Ireland with her professor and classmates.

It changed her life.

“The next semester, I studied social and political transformation in Durban, South Africa,” McCracken said. “This past summer, I represented PLU as one of two Peace Scholars at the International Summer School in Oslo, Norway.”

At home, she worked with the Peace Community Center in Tacoma’s Hilltop neighborhood. She came to see what her professor once explained is a difference between peacemakers and peace-builders.

“Peacemaking is the making of a treaty, stopping a conflict,” McCracken said. “Peace-building isn’t made up of one action, it’s the constant work of relationship building.

“The real work is done with everyday people, reaching across the divides, working with kids and families who have seen violence — and with the people who committed acts of violence.”

When the Corrymeela Community began its annual search for 12 young world peace-building scholars, McCracken applied.

“It’s difficult for U.S. students to get accepted,” Feller said. “It’s tougher than getting a Rhodes Scholarship.”

But McCracken was selected, and in August she will begin a yearlong fellowship in Northern Ireland. It will be, she said, a continuation of her education after her graduation from the Parkland campus this month.

“I want to learn from people living in intense conflict, and the people of Northern Ireland won’t leave,” she said. “They’re committed to making it a better place.

“My heroes are the people doing the little things every single day. You can get so academic about all this, but the real important stuff is to do the best for a community. Sometimes you can help by simply reminding people to listen to one another.”

Much of what PLU has given her over the past four years is personal, though it includes the love of peace-building.

“That’s what PLU is all about, and I’m proud to have been surrounded by that kind of college community,” McCracken said. “The experience has been special for me, a connection with my family.

“My mom was very vocal about my attending PLU. My dad was like ‘let her make a choice.’ I’ve grown closer to both, and my grandmother lives only a few blocks from campus.”

Feller has seen more than 700 students come and go through her courses during the past 14 years. Maybe 100, she said, have stayed with the life of a peace-builder.

“They’re the ones who get jobs at the State Department, at nongovernmental organizations,” Feller said. “They’re busy, I’m busy, but they pop up. They’ll write and always say, ‘I hope you remember me,’ and I do. Of course I do.”

In McCracken, she sees a young woman who wants to make a difference — one person, one family, one group at a time.

Feller grew up feeling the same things.

“When I was very young, watching television news with my parents, I remember seeing violence every night,” Feller said. “I had a sense, probably at age 3, that people should not be mean.”

That notion stayed with her, as it has with many of her students, including Anna McCracken.

This summer, McCracken will begin a year of peace-building that will start with making her own bed — but probably not building it.

Larry LaRue: (253) 597-8638

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