Print this, laminate it and stick it somewhere you can see it every morning when you wake up…
There are many reasons why we love international human rights lawyer Amal Clooney.
As Amy Poehler and Tina Fey famously joked at the 2015 Golden Globes: “George Clooney married Amal Almuddin this year. Amal is a human rights lawyer who worked on the Enron case; was an adviser to Kofi Annan regarding Syria; and was selected for a three-person UN commission investigating rules of war violations in the Gaza Strip.
“So tonight… her husband is getting a lifetime achievement award.”
It almost goes without saying that Amal is a strong advocate for women’s rights, has worked on the recognition of the Armenian genocide, has worked with Columbia Law School’s Human Rights Institute, and has represented clients such as WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.
Perhaps most inspiring of all though, is the fact that Amal stood before the United Nations and told delegates she was “ashamed” to do so while they did nothing to help Yazidi women who had been attacked, abused and enslaved by Isis. Amal, who represents former trafficked sex slave Nadia Murad.
“This is the first time I have spoken in this chamber,” she said at the time. “I wish I could say I’m proud to be here but I am not. I am ashamed as a supporter of the United Nations that states are failing to prevent or even punish genocide because they find that their own interests get in the way.”
It makes sense, then, that Amal was asked to deliver a Senior Day speech to Vanderbilt University’s 2018 graduates this week. And even more so that she took the opportunity to inform students that it is not their advanced education, families, age or ambitions that will get them ahead in life.
Rather, it’s their character, she said, and particularly their courage.
“Courage, as they say, is contagious,” Amal told the crowd.
“People who have the courage to change their societies – in India, in South Africa, in the United States – inspire each other and create rights for future generations. But when I look at the world today, I see that courage is needed more than ever.”
Clooney, who is one of the world’s most prominent international human rights lawyers, went on to list off the many areas where today’s graduates will be needed.
These include in the fight for women’s, LGBT, press and immigrant rights.
“At a time when women all over the world face physical abuse, restrictions on their ability to work, own property, travel and even have custody over their children, we need courage.
“At a time when more journalists are imprisoned around the world than any time in the last three decades, and even here at home the media is under attack from the White House, we need courage.
“And at a time when our politicians try to conflate the terms ‘refugee’ and ‘terrorist’ and make us fear one another, we need courage.”
Amal continued the feeling of celebration, encouraging graduates to take a moment to enjoy their accomplishments and then demonstrate what they care about through their careers and the choices they make each day.
“Be courageous. Challenge orthodoxy. Stand up for what you believe in,” she said. “When you are in your rocking chair talking to your grandchildren many years from now, be sure you have a good story to tell.”
The Oxford and New York University graduate said she began her working life as a corporate lawyer earning $200,000 a year. Her yearning to make a difference led her to give that up for a $20,000 a year job as a judicial clerk at The Hague, which launched her current career.
“My advice isn’t that you have to be Gandhi or Mandela or Martin Luther King or that you should be a human rights activist or get jobs where the salary decreases at every turn,” she said.
“We need young people with the courage to say, ‘This is our world now, and there are going to be some changes.’ My generation is counting on you.”
Then, quoting the poet Robert Frost, Clooney added: “There will be moments in your life where two roads diverge in the wood, and when that happens, be courageous.”
If that doesn’t inspire you to take on the world, we don’t know what will…