I’m back in Manhattan today, for the first time in four years. It’s the city where I spent half of my twenties, working as a new media journalist. I was driven, more than anything else, to tell stories that crossed cultural boundaries. For me and a few close graduate school friends, it felt important to play some tiny role in helping to heal the lasting wounds of Sept. 11. I don’t know if we accomplished that. A few of us won a Webby Award for one of our projects, and when I see that old screen grab of our shuttered site, the intro text looks heartbreakingly naive. But if nothing else, it’s undeniable that the city and those stories shaped the thirty-somethings we have become.
And so it’s surreal to be back here in the dawning age of Trump. We drove by Trump Tower on our way into midtown, and saw the protests up close. Maybe it’s because our president-elect has left for New Jersey, but it all looks much smaller and less robust than I imagined.
What I want to share today is the story of one of the most remarkable organizations I ever encountered in those years as a New Yorker and a journalist.The Iraqi Student Project was born thanks to two American expats in Damascus, Gabe Huck and Theresa Kubasak, who had the courage to believe they could make a real difference in this world. Beginning in 2008, they helped Iraqi refugees living in Syria to get a college education in America. Their mission was to empower a generation that would rebuild Iraq. Tragically, the emergence of the Syrian civil war made the program unsustainable, and after the last cohort graduated last spring, ISP came to an end. But not before it profoundly changed the lives of 64 young Iraqi men and women — all bright, kind, and brimming with potential.
I had the tremendous privilege of interviewing and filming a few of those students in ISP’s inaugural class. It was 2008, and I was a rookie — so it’s standard def, and not always in perfect focus. But take a look, and try to tell me that a ban on bringing amazing people like this into the country is anything other than an abomination.