THOMASVILLE — The Rotary Club of Thomasville celebrated 75 years of its Georgia Rotary Student Program this past spring and is planning to unveil a Peace Plaza at the Courtyard by Marriott to honor the program’s success.
The Peace Plaza currently includes a fountain, A Peace Plaza seal and a roadside marker will be completed in February, with the addition of donor markers that will be placed in the ground.
The scholarship program was founded in 1946 by past district governor William A. Watt with the intentions to promote world peace and diversity through educational opportunities.
With the help of host families from the Rotary Club, foreign students have come to Georgia to further their education at Georgia colleges and universities.
Approximately 90 foreign students have been sponsored through the program thus far. This year, despite COVID-19, the Rotary Club is continuing to sponsor 39 students from 15 different countries.
Among this year’s students is Katherine Peterson from Denmark, who will be sponsored by the Thomasville chapter of the Rotary Club.
Debbie Goodman, Rotary Club member and past host parent, said the scholarship program has proven world peace is possible.
“The whole purpose of the program is to promote peace and understanding among nations,” she said. “Peace is possible through mankind having an understanding of one another.”
Debbie and Wallace Goodman said they first witnessed the program’s positive impact when they were the host parents to Loreto Gonzalez, GRSP student from 1996-1997, who came from Chile.
Through the program, Gonzalez studied at Valdosta State University and earned her master’s in education in instructional technology.
She now has a job as a training consultant that she said wouldn’t be possible without the experience she got from coming to Georgia.
“Deep inside of me, I felt like I could really make a change, even if it was this small, and that change had to be made by first living in another country where I could get not only an academic goal but most importantly, the cultural exposure,” she said. “I feel fully satisfied with what I did.”
Gonzalez said she hopes her experience through GRSP will motivate other foreign students and her family to take on great opportunities like the program, no matter their ethnicity.
“I want my children to really become aware that there are differences out in the world. Because we’re different, it doesn’t mean we’re bad,” she said. “I think that being different is what really gives and adds value to society, so I want them to have that understanding.”
Debbie said through the years GRSP has strengthened communication between the U.S and foreign countries about misconceptions of Georgia in the media and hopes it will continue to do so.
“We really hope that all these students from all the countries will really get to know Georgians as we are and have a better understanding of us and the U.S. as a whole," she said, "and when they go back home, they can communicate better about the reality.”
Once the Peace Plaza is unveiled in February, Wallace Goodman said the community will be reminded of the history of peacemaking based off the principals the program was founded on.
“I think it’ll give the community the opportunity to remember what Will Watt founded all those many years ago and his vision that peace is possible,” he said.