Hundreds of Harvard alumni and students came together for the seventh annual Public Interested Conference on Jan. 27 to consider taking on roles to address many of society’s most pernicious problems, from civil rights violations to poverty to sexual assault.
Yet despite the focus on humanity’s wrongs, a sense of optimism pervaded the Science Center as alumni shared inspirational ideas and practical advice on how to create meaningful change through a career in public service.
Keynote speaker Kristen Clarke ’97, president and executive director of the National Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, emphasized the importance of staying positive and resolute in the face of daunting challenges. Noting the upcoming 50th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., Clarke called on students to continue King’s legacy by rising above the “politics of hatred” and dedicating themselves to careers that strengthen democracy.
“I believe we have an obligation to make sure that the generation behind us inherits a world that is better than what we have today,” Clarke said. “A Harvard degree carries with it tremendous power and tremendous possibility. I encourage each of you to think about how you can use your degree to go out into the world and make change.”
One alumna who already has is Rise founder Amanda Nguyen ’13, who delivered a simple but compelling message: “Hope is contagious.”
A rape survivor who had to struggle to navigate the justice system in its aftermath, Nguyen set out to rewrite the law to protect the civil rights of the country’s estimated 25 million rape survivors. In 2016, Congress passed her Sexual Assault Survivors’ Bill of Rights — making it only the 21st bill in modern history approved unanimously by both the House and Senate.
“You have the power in you to make a difference,” said Nguyen, urging attendees not to give in to activism fatigue. “There are so many things now that make us feel powerless, but no one can make you feel powerless when we come together. No one can make you feel invisible if you demand to be seen.”