CHICAGO (CBS) — As Chicago plays host to nearly two dozen Nobel Peace Prize winners this week, students at Von Steuben High School got to interact with a man who altered world history.

Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev is among 21 Nobel winners attending a summit that promotes international cooperation.

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As CBS 2’s Derrick Blakley and WBBM Newsradio’s Craig Dellimore report, Gorbachev, winner of the 1990 Nobel Peace Prize, brought history to life for students at Von Steuben and spread his passion for peace.

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“Our task is to hand over the cause of peace and to give our experience, our thoughts about peace, to the young generation,” Gorbachev said through an interpreter.

Gorbachev said education powered his rise from a remote Soviet village, to leader of a world power. He called reforming Russia, and ending the Cold War, his biggest accomplishments.

He said that pushing economic reforms and reducing nuclear weapons were a necessity for the former Soviet Union, because the country was stumbling economically.

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“It would have taken a few hours to destroy civilization,” he said. “So my motivation was to change that and to change that through cooperation with other countries.”

Actor Sean Penn, a left-wing political activist, disagreed with Gorbachev’s assessment of his disarmament partner, Ronald Reagan.

“Reagan was a great president, no doubt about it,” Gorbachev said.

“It’s one thing to have an actor in the White House, quite another a bad actor,” Penn said.

But Penn praised Gorbachev as a man who brought so much change with so little violence.

Students were thankful for the experience.

“To see him in the flesh as someone who made such a huge difference in the world, really changed the world, right in front of us, makes it that much more real,” said Von Steuben student Manal Saleh.

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Gorbachev also said he was a high opinion of President Obama, because the president understands America must lead the world though partnership, not domination.