Speaker Beckstrand talks of how ‘Peace Essay’ changed her

• Beckstrand-Schafer said the research and writing process helped prepare her and alter the way she takes in the world around her


by Jim Boyle


For Christen Beckstrand-Schafer, the experience of walking back into her former high school and speaking to students was rather surreal.

The 2006 Elk River High School graduate doesn’t remember much of her assignments or even what were her daily interactions with friends, but she remembers the grueling work to complete her award-winning Peace Essay.

She took second place locally, won the state Peace Essay contest in 2005 and traveled to Washington, D.C., to compete in the national contest.

“I remember well the digging for resources, the note cards, and the topic sentences and drafts upon drafts, before finally handing it over to a leap of faith or breath of exhaustion,” she told students at the annual awards ceremony on March 27.

She didn’t realize it then but that work prepared her well for college, giving her confidence for the first tough collegiate papers, and term papers down the line would not be so daunting. It also helped her be ready for graduate school.

And the thinking that went into her essay has also been a life changer. It altered the way she looks at the world, she told students.

John Robert Stevenson, a Scottish writer, summed her thought up well when he wrote: “Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap, but by the seeds you plant.”

Beckstrand said for her it’s about not judging an assignment or task by what is learned today, but by “what can be learned tomorrow because of today.”

Her essay was a comparison of the struggle in Poland to that in Angola. She didn’t understand at the time the lasting importance researching and writing it would have on her academic life.

She won the state Peace Essay title with it, and traveled to Washington, D.C., where she took part in a mock United Nations session and met students from around the country. All the experiences taught her to look at life and the world differently.

“This process of considering situations that affect the larger, global community — such as security sector reform in new democracies — is an essential step for us to become leaders in whatever path we choose next,” she said. “We begin to see the world as not a collection of black and white situations, discrete and disconnected, but as a cascade and web of actions to which all are linked, to which we are all accountable and in which we are all capable of making a small or big difference.”

Beckstrand-Schafer graduated summa cum laude from the College of St. Benedict in 2010 with a double major in music performance (flute) and German language and literature. During the course of her undergraduate studies, she studied abroad in Austria. She earned her master’s degree in music education from the University of Colorado in 2012.

She currently lives in Lafayette, Colo., with her husband and black Labrador. She enjoys hiking in the Rockies, cooking and attending concerts.

As a music teacher for an elementary school in Colorado, she said she wouldn’t say that she contemplates peace and democracy on a daily basis.

“But I do consider a student or my class or a lesson plan from a variety of angles and problem-solve the best solution,” she said. “And this influences the pride I feel in my job and in my community. And I can tie this back to the seed that was planted while I wrote the Peace Essay.”