Elie Wiesel, the prolific writer and humanitarian, needs little introduction. For the last half-century, his activism and advocacy for human rights have given him unparallel notoriety—some even credit him with our present understanding of the term “Holocaust”—not to mention his 1986 Nobel Peace Prize and the ubiquity of Night and its fictional sequels: Dawn and Day.
Although Wiesel is Romanian by birth, America has become his home. After receiving his Nobel Prize, he and his wife, Marion, started the Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity, and its Ethics Prize, awarded to American college students writing on particularly difficult ethical challenges and dilemmas in our society, and advocating the actions necessary for our society to undertake. For the past twenty years, “Of all the projects our Foundation has been involved in, none has been more exciting than this opportunity to inspire young students to examine the ethical aspect of what they have learned in their personal lives and from their teachers in the classroom,” writes Wiesel.
The winners of the 2011 Ethics Prize were just announced, and YUP has recently published the highlights from the first twenty years of the prize, including Rachel Maddow’s “Identifiable Lives: AIDS and the Response to Dehumanization,” in An Ethical Compass: Coming of Age in the 21st Century, with a Preface by Wiesel and a Foreword by Thomas L. Friedman. The topics of the essays range from Bosnia, the genocide in Rwanda, sweatshops and globalization, and the political obligations of the mothers of Argentina’s Disappeared to a white student who joins a black gospel choir, a young woman who learns to share in Ladakh, and the outsize implications of reporting on something as small as a cracked windshield.
While you’re at it, don’t forget to check out our other “World of Letters” suggested gifts for graduates, as the millions of people graduating this spring reflect on their own formative experiences and look toward tomorrow’s hopes for the future. (There are gifts for History, Science, Law, and Biography fans, too!)