By Jennifer Vogel
It was the middle of the afternoon in Oaxaca, Mexico. I was about to cross a narrow, centuries-old street with low, chipped buildings on all sides. I remember I was holding a baggie full of mangos. From my right, an enormous white bus approached and roared around a nearby corner, like a train slipping through a tunnel. Having miscalculated the roadway, the driver cut the corner short and popped up onto the sidewalk as he turned. In the process, he hit and badly injured a small boy.
The bus kept moving. But a woman—dressed in office clothes, a stranger to the boy it turned out—ran after the bus and pounded with her fists on its side. As it sped away, she pulled out a pen and wrote down its license plate number. Then, she enlisted a local merchant to call an ambulance. Finally, she returned to the corner and wrapped her arms around the boy’s mother, who was crouched over her son and wailing.
This woman was remarkable, and not just because she possessed a cool head and formidable organizational skills. Rather, she was remarkable because without a second thought, she had committed her time and effort—not to mention her outrage— to a situation that, technically, had nothing to do with her.
Most of us are too engrossed in our daily lives of working, making meals, raising children, nurturing friendships, and walking dogs to take on the lives of others. By “others,” I mean people we don’t know; people who desperately need our help, our resources, and our sway; people who may live halfway around the world.
Heroes like the woman who chased the bus, it turns out, are in abundance among U faculty, students, and alumni. These generous, courageous people—some of whom are included in this issue of the magazine—spend their days fixing housing shortages and addressing famines; protecting human rights in the face of the war on terror; holding governments accountable for “disappeared” people, war crimes, and other human rights abuses; writing international rules for investigating suspicious deaths; teaching plastic surgeons to reverse genital mutilation on women; exposing doctors who torture; investigating how economic policies impact racial discrimination; teaching new refugees to succeed in American society; and writing galvanizing poetry about mass shootings and immigrant laborers.
They are able to effectively do these things thanks to their U education or, at least in part, because of programs like CLA’s Human Rights Program, the Law School’s Human Rights Center, the Humphrey School’s Master of Human Rights, and the U’s interdepartmental, interdisciplinary Human Rights Lab.
What’s most impressive about these people is not that they possess impossible supernatural skills, such as the ability to fly or leap tall buildings in a single bound. It’s that they are human, just like all of us. Yet, they have rejected cynicism, feelings of helplessness, and that paralyzing sense that the world is just too big and complicated and screwed up to make a difference. They are saving civilization for everyone. And to them I say, thank you.
Main Image By Sher Stoneman
Jennifer Vogel (B.A. '92) can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.