A Human Rights Revolution

by Karen Tse

On May 13, 210 seniors earned their degrees from Scripps at ceremonies on Elm Tree Lawn. Karen Tse ’86, founder and CEO of International Bridges to Justice; senior speaker Kimberlina McKinney ’07; and President Nancy Bekavac all addressed themes of responsibilities to those who have had fewer advantages than themselves. Below are excerpts from Karen Tse’s address.

In this day and age, I firmly believe that we are on the edge of a human rights revolution—that there’s never been before a time in history that we could do what we can do now for human rights.

With great power comes great responsibility, and you will bring your knowledge forward, and you must also bring your love forward. You must bring your whole heart forward. You must bring the pieces of who you are, even when it’s difficult.

I remember in Vietnam one day being amazed as I walked along and saw a man who was working with street children. These were children who you wouldn’t want to be around when you walked into an airport because they would probably pick-pocket you. He had a great safe house where the kids were supporting each other and singing songs, and they were all street kids who had been in and out of prison. I said to him, “This is amazing what you’ve done with the kids. Tell me how you started, what did you do?”

And he said, “A number of years ago, I was a heroin addict myself, and one day, I came out of prison and saw the police picking up these boys for stealing eggs. I shook my head and said, ‘It might be ok that I’m in prison, but these children should not be in prison.’ I turned and said to some of my friends, ‘I’m going to take off my hat, and I’m going to pass the hat. We’re going to do something for these children.’ I passed the hat, we got a little bit of money, wasn’t much, but we decided we’d do something.”

Every Sunday, they would gather the children in a park, and for that one day, the children would be children. After a number of years, they developed safe houses and began to transform the system for these children. “You know,” said the man, “I thought that I was doing it for the children, but when I was doing it for the children, I realized that I myself was transformed by the process.”

As you go forward in your daily lives, be alive to the mystery and adventure of life, know that you yourself have the opportunity for birth and rebirth everyday, and that in the process of giving to the greater world, you yourself will be transformed.