plane-2Illustrated by Minji Reem

When this year’s LL.M. students gathered together for the first time in August 2014, lawyers from various countries and backgrounds – transactional lawyers, fierce litigators, human rights activists, and scholars from all around the world, all with different skills and stories to tell – became students again. Despite our different backgrounds and viewpoints, we were all united under a common quest – a quest to learn, to share, and to strive for enlightenment.

And CLS was our lighthouse in this quest.

Located in New York City, Columbia is a diamond among the Ivy League schools. Its architecture, services, style, and level of technical development have made our life and studies here very comfortable and even joyful—everything is thoughtfully designed to support our success. My favorite place at Columbia is Butler library—I have literally spent most of  my LL.M. program there. This place is also very meaningful for me personally. First, at Butler library I found books written by my grandfather. Second, when coming upstairs, I always see a portrait of President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who as Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe during World War II shook hands with a commander of the cavalry brigade of the Soviet army – my relative Movladi Visaitov. These reminders of my family and the hurdles that all of our predecessors overcame in the past have inspired me throughout the year.

I was the only student from Russia in the CLS LL.M. program this year. I am from the Southern region of the Russian Federation, the Chechen Republic. For decades, my people suffered from oppression, deportations, wars, and discrimination. Generations of my ancestors were forced to leave their homeland, and my generation faced brutal wars, became refugees, and are still labeled as bandits incapable of learning. My studying here is the best signal to all Chechens that they can achieve whatever they wish and that hard work, learning, and commitment are the only ways to the progress and justice. It is also the best answer to all those who discriminate other people back in my country.

I know that on graduation day we will feel sorrow in reaching the end of an amazing journey—a journey that started not in August 2014, but much earlier, when our families encouraged us to strive for the best, when they put tremendous efforts into giving us an education; when we first thought to ourselves, “I can do it” and started believing.

But as a lighthouse that guides ships in the dark night, the light of our Columbia education will guide us in making the world a better place. And whatever sorrows we feel upon graduation will remain in the shadows of this light.