The great human rights pioneer Robert L. Bernstein, founder of Human Rights Watch, appeared at Roosevelt House this week to discuss his recent book Speaking Freely: My Life in Publishing and Human Rights, and opened the event with an inspiring statement on how Hunter College represents—and personifies—the enduring power and limitless opportunity engendered by human rights.
“First of all, thank you all for coming out this evening. In view of what is going on in our government today and its wide bans on immigration, I think, if ever there was an argument for the advantages of keeping our country open to immigration, from all countries in the world, it is Hunter. Hunter stands as a tribute to the value of giving young people from each and every background and country the education that they deserve. This idea became particularly apparent to me in reading President Raab’s letter from December of last year, addressed to “Friends of Hunter,” in which she describes the past 15 years of serving as President of this great institution.
Here is a shortened list of some of the students she mentioned: Faiza Masood, daughter of Pakistani immigrants and the first Hunter recipient of the Marshall Scholarship, one of the most selective graduate awards in the country; Sarah Soo-Hoo who graduated as co-valedictorian with a 4.0 GPA, and is now enrolled in medical school at Columbia University; Alexander Barbulescu, another co-valedictorian who dreamt of being a physician and has been accepted to an MD/PhD program with Weill Cornell and Memorial Sloan Kettering. His parents fled Romania, as many others are fleeing different countries today. Hunter’s roll call of excellence makes the case for the U.S. to continue its longstanding support of immigration and refugee assistance, a necessary one to the continued growth of our nation.
In addition to highlighting the amazing Hunter students President Raab has seen over the past 15 years, her letter also describes the amazing things that have happened on the campus itself – one of them was the restoration of this beautiful Hall, which I’m glad to be sharing with you all this evening.
I would also like to thank Lev Sviridov, who is Director of the Macaulay Honors College at Hunter. He has been my liaison with all of Hunter, right up to the very busy President Raab. I met Lev and his courageous mother when she arrived in the U.S., with Lev, seeking refugee status. She was fleeing Russia, where she was a journalist who had tried to write a story about the KGB. She fled with her then-10-year-old son, Lev, when her life was threatened by anonymous phone calls. Lev came to Hunter after graduating from City College and completing his Rhodes scholarship at Oxford. His success is a tribute to the wisdom of U.S. immigration policies, which – before President Trump – could distinguish between refugees and terrorists.
I’d also thank Mike Posner for giving his time to share this event with me. I can think of no one better to share the platform with me, to lead me in the right direction, to jar my memory, and even to correct any errors. Mike was Founding Executive Director of the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights, which became Human Rights First. He also served as Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor in the Obama administration, traveling all around the world, and is now Jerome Kohlberg Professor of Ethics & Finance and Co-director of the Center for Business and Human Rights at NYU Stern School of Business.
I really love the Hunter community and want to thank President Raab for giving me a space at Hunter to write my book. I don’t think the book would have been completed without it. In a world where laughs are few today, I’ll give you one story from my time here. While writing the book, I used to go to the Hunter cafeteria for lunch. As I’m 94, students would look at me wondering what I was doing there. One day, a bright-eyed female student kept staring at me as I sat eating my lunch, so I stared back. After a few minutes, I couldn’t resist and said, “What are you looking at? I’m only a freshman.” Now onto more serious thoughts… Mike, let’s begin.”