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BRATTLEBORO — It was a blustery morning as Brattleboro Union High School’s own Nobel laureate swept onto Natowich Field with her hair flying in all directions and the sky grey, threatening rain.

And like the unpredictable weather, with Jody Williams, Class of 1968, you never quite know what you’re going to get. She is irreverent, without guile and has no time for niceties.

“I have to be careful because my pants are falling down,” she started off. “That would be very unappealing, and that would horrify my mother.”

She also said her 91-year-old mother, who was in attendance, “gets agitated if I use the ‘F’ bomb. She says that it tarnishes my Nobel Prize.”

Then she kind of shrugged.

“I’m a girl from Vermont.”

Williams spoke Tuesday morning to the entire school body, invited by the Windham World Affairs Council and the PeaceJam Task Force, an organization that connects Nobel Peace Prize winners like Williams with students like Eva Gould, Ava Whitney, Ingrid Iselin, and Django Grace. Those students are helping to launch a PeaceJam Ambassadors Program this fall at the high school to connect students to issues of peace, social justice, and nonviolence through the study of the lives and work of Nobel Peace laureates from around the world.

“The reason I joined PeaceJam and the reason I’m here today is because we find ourselves in a really [scatological expletive deleted] time in the world,” said Williams. “We worry about climate change. Some of us are totally freaked out by the Russian aggression against Ukraine and its people. I’m totally freaked out by Tsar Putin’s threats of using tactical nuclear weapons. It is mind blowing.”

“As young people, we’re constantly being met with this entourage of horrible world problems that we’re just expected to grow up and solve,” said Django Grace, while introducing Williams. “There’s so much talk, so many broken things that are just laid out before us ... Frankly, I’m really sick of hearing people talk.”

Starting a local chapter of PeaceJam will help connect local students with students around the world who are working on change, he said.

I’ve listened to Williams before, in 2020 when she spoke to the World Affairs Council about the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, which is advocating for a preemptive ban on the development, production, and use of fully autonomous weapons.

She was unpredictable then as well, veering off into hard-truth observations with unrelated anecdotes as added spice.

Williams graduated from Brattleboro High School in 1968, helped found the International Campaign to Ban Landmines in 1991, and won the Nobel Peace Prize, with ICBL, in 1997 for her contributions toward eliminating landmines.

After graduating from BUHS, Williams earned a BA from the University of Vermont in 1972, an MA in teaching Spanish and English as a second language from the School for International Training in Brattleboro in 1976, and a Master in International Relations from the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies, a division of Johns Hopkins University, in Washington, D.C. in 1984.

Before helping to found ICBL, she spent 11 years on various projects related to the wars in Nicaragua and El Salvador, where, according to the Encyclopedia of Human Rights, she “spent the 1980s performing life-threatening human rights work.”

In 1997, the Ottawa Treaty to ban landmines was ratified and since then, more than 160 nations have signed the treaty. Russia and the United States are not signatories.

In 2006, Williams and four other laureates went on to found the Nobel Women’s Initiative “to magnify the power and visibility of women working in countries around the world for peace, justice and equality.”

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She didn’t start out so involved.

“I just was a regular boring kid. I didn’t do all the marvelous things that people seem to do these days. I don’t think I lost anything. I had a loving family and all that really good stuff. And I still love books. That’s about all I can remember of high school, actually.”

She admitted she was “oblivious” in college until she attended a presentation from a Salvadoran man who spoke about the United States’ involvement in the “dirty war” in his home country.

But even though she didn’t start to get involved until college, her sense of justice started earlier, at 5 or 6, defending her deaf older brother, Steven, and a new kid, a young “complete nerd” who got shoved by another kid at Green Street School.

“Nobody said a word,” said Williams.

Williams spoke up and the shover apologized.

“I could only think, if people stand up to injustice, helping nonviolently ... what we could do in the world.”

That inchoate sense of needing to right wrongs didn’t really start to take form until hearing the Salvadoran man speak. At the same time, she said, the Vietnam War was raging.

“I still carry the Vietnam War in my heart, in my spirit and my soul,” said Williams before commenting on the wind, which she said was right out of “The Wizard of Oz.” Then she mentioned Toto and digressed into a story about her dog.

“My dog is a white German Shepherd named Harry,” she said. “Beautiful, but he talks too much, like most men.”

That got a rousing round of applause and laughter from the students huddling in the stands, trying to find shelter from the wind and rain.

“We had two female dogs before Mr. Harry and they were polite, quiet. And then we get Harry. And he has a vocabulary ... of 25 barks and whining. And he uses it. I sometimes think he’s mansplaining to me, never positive.”

More laughter and applause.

Then she moved right back into telling the students how important it is, even when feeling overwhelmed by climate change, Russia invading Ukraine, and the shooting in Buffalo, to continue to care about the world.

“In our climate right now it’s too easy to buy into the hate. ... I believe that hate happens because a person is insecure. If I am confident in who I am, why do I have to hate anybody else? I believe in live and let live. As long as you aren’t oppressing me, I won’t be bugging you.”

She told the students to find something they care about and dedicate their energy to it.

“Volunteer with a group working on whatever issue it is that you like, that you care about. And then you can see if you share the same philosophy with that group ... In all of my I work over the years I have really liked 85 percent of the people I worked with. Can’t like everybody and I sure as hell don’t.”

Williams said she’s always a little disconcerted when people introduce her, like she is “the Empress of the World.”

“They introduce me as Jody Williams, a woman who changed the world by herself. No, I didn’t. I changed the world working with 1,300 non-governmental organizations around the world. It wasn’t magic ... You can’t do everything. You can’t snap your fingers and make global peace and wonder in the world. Impossible. And nobody changes the world alone.”

Bob Audette can be contacted at