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How did the Gedenk Award for Tolerance impact your life?

This blog features Lauren Wyman, our 2016 “Gedenk Award for Tolerance” recipient. Lauren is a freshman at the University of British Columbia pursuing an arts degree, which allows her to pursue a broad range of interests that include environmental sciences, art, photography, and archeology. When not studying, she can be found drawing, taking pictures, and hiking.

The Gedenk Award for Tolerance impacted my life in subtle and profound ways. First, and most important, it served as validation of my artistic ability.

Prior to my experience with the Gedenk Movement, I had not shared my artwork with my closest friends or family, and definitely not with a large international community of artists! Drawing was a very private and personal hobby. All that changed when my work was selected as a Scholastic Art & Writing Awards Gold Medal and Gedenk Award for Tolerance recipient. Refugee was on the cover of our local newspaper and subsequently shown on a large screen behind me as I stood on stage at the National Ceremony at Carnegie Hall in New York City. My work was no longer private.

I was uncertain how people would see my artwork and whether the message that I was hoping to communicate would be successfully conveyed.  Through the exposure offered by Gedenk, I feel that my artwork and the message it delivers have been validated. I received emails and messages from people who were touched by my work. The acceptance and positive feedback I have received has been an incredible experience.

Art has always been an outlet for me to express thoughts and emotions. Sometimes what we see or feel can be too difficult for words to convey. Art can be a voice for this. My artwork serves as a vehicle to help me capture and share these thoughts in a more effective medium.

On a recent trip to Sicily, I visited refugee camps that housed countless Syrians trying to escape a war-torn country. While safer in the camps, these people were still behind fences and isolated. I struggled to imagine the fear, anger, sadness, and uncertainty that they must be feeling. I felt uncomfortable and helpless but didn’t know what I could do. I traveled home moved and impacted by the experience.

Upon my return to school I learned about the Gedenk Movement’s mission to increase tolerance and ethnic understanding. Through this mission I saw the opportunity to express myself by submitting my art. Refugees became a vehicle for me to share the emotions of what I saw and experienced. Art allowed me to present a global issue to a larger audience in a way that transcended language, race, gender, and bias.

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