An Upper Arlington High School senior who believes young people have the power to change the world for the better was one of 24 members of an international panel that judged proposals seeking to do just that.
Once she chooses a college to continue her schooling, 18-year-old Cassie D'Angelo plans to major in international politics or international relations. She said much of her motivation for pursuing those areas of study comes from a desire to fight for freedom and justice across the globe.
Those were ideals instilled in her by the time she was in seventh grade by her late great-grandmother, Marie D'Angelo, who lived in Nazi-occupied Germany during World War II. She would recount stories about risking her life just to hide eggs in her dresses, which the Nazis had decreed were among supplies available only to the German army.
"She always taught me that freedom was one of the most important things you could have," D'Angelo said.
Inspired by the memory of her great-grandmother and encouraged by her UAHS German teacher, Tricia Fellinger, D'Angelo applied to be one of 24 people age 15 to 25 worldwide to serve on Normandy for Peace's Freedom Prize 2020.
The Freedom Prize, established in 2019 by the Normandy region of France in partnership with the International Institute of Human Rights and Peace, aims to raise awareness of freedom, peace and human rights by honoring a person or organization committed to those values. It involves young people at every point of the process -- from applications to the international panel of judges to the selection of the winner via an online vote.
D'Angelo was the only person from the U.S. selected for the panel. She traveled Feb. 11-18 to Normandy, France, to judge proposals for freedom submitted by those between the ages of 15 and 25 from throughout the world.
"I wanted to be a part of it because I think that the young people of the world are the people who have to make the change and fight for freedom," D'Angelo said. "I thought this prize was perfect because it's completely done by 15- through 25-year-olds."
In her application, which included three essays, D'Angelo wrote that she believes freedom means having a choice.
"Freedom is the reason I have ambitions and dreams, and most importantly, the reason I can pursue them," she wrote. "Millions of people have laid down their lives so that I can have the freedom to choose."
D'Angelo said it's her goal to "help change the world for the better before our generation is replaced by future generations."
"The international panel for the Freedom Prize 2020 is the perfect venue to promote peace and encourage young people to become involved in the world," she wrote.
"By participating on the panel, I hope to develop a sense of global community within our generation in order to cooperate and make the world a more peaceful place."
D'Angelo was a perfect candidate for the panel, Fellinger said, because she has exerted a positive influence on others through the UAHS Culture & Diversity Leadership group.
Fellinger said D'Angelo has had five years of schooling in French, a skill that would help her on the panel.
"I thought of Cassie immediately when I received an email from the Ohio Department of Education's World Language Consultant, who was advertising the program," Fellinger said.
In addition to the qualities D'Angelo could bring to the panel in helping to select three Freedom Prize 2020 finalists, Fellinger thought the program would bolster her student's knowledge and worldview.
"I believe that international-travel experiences like the program that Cassie participated in can change young people's lives," Fellinger said. "They can help to instill self-confidence and open up opportunities that the students might not have otherwise.
"Even just a week spent immersed in French culture is enough to convince someone like Cassie to continue studying French, study in France or maybe even start learning a third language," she said. "Cassie's passion for learning about other countries' history, politics and cultures, coupled with her experience in France, will shape her to be an open-minded leader -- one who understands that there are different ways of thinking and solving problems."
During her time in France, D'Angleo met with political leaders from the region and went on sightseeing trips that included stops at cemeteries for World War II fighters from the United States and Germany.
She also worked with fellow panelists from Africa, Cambodia, Canada, France and Madagascar to whittle a pool of 167 Freedom Prize 2020 applicants down to three finalists.
"It was such an amazing opportunity to spend a week with all of these people," D'Angelo said. "We were exchanging our cultures and getting to know each other. It was a really good experience."
Now that she's back home, D'Angelo is working to promote Freedom Prize 2020.
She said she's hopeful that people ages 15-25 will review the three finalists' proposals and vote for their favorite.
Additional information about the finalists' proposals and the vote is available at normandiepourlapaix.fr/index.php/en/3-stage-initiative.
"I really want to spread word that the voting is from March 9 through April 12," D'Angelo said. "All 15- through 25-year-olds can vote.
"I want people to see what's happening around the world and I want people to see that even though they might be thousands of miles away from what's happening, they still have a chance to impact the world and really change it for the better."