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Nobel laureate brings message of hope

U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley (l.-r.) presents Aung San Suu Kyi with a Unisphere as Queens College President James Muyskens, singer Carole King, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and actress Anjelica Huston look on. Photo by Christina Santucci
TimesLedger Newspapers

In a moving display of the human spirit, Nobel Peace Prize winner and Congressional Gold Medal recipient Daw Aung San Suu Kyi visited Queens over the weekend and urged the borough’s young people not to take their political opportunities for granted.

Kyi, 67, spoke before a packed audience inside the Queens College Aaron Copland School of Music, at 65-30 Kissena Blvd. in Flushing, Saturday to meet with supporters of human rights for her home country of Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, and to speak of her experiences while under house arrest for 15 years as a result of her opposition to military rule.

“You must vote. You must practice your democratic rights or they will fade away,” Kyi said to the young people of both the borough and the country. “The privileges that you have in this country are such that young people in my country could not imagine.”

Joining the prominent guest were City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, U.S. Rep. Joe Crowley (D-Jackson Heights), actress Anjelica Huston and Queens College alumna and singer Carole King to welcome Kyi back to the United States, and to New York City.

“If you asked me one year ago if she would be in New York, at any time soon, I wouldn’t think it was possible,” Queens College graduate Crowley said of how thankful he was to have Kyi visit Queens. “She always believed in human rights and the rights of people everywhere.”

With Crowley’s help, Kyi received the U.S. Congressional Gold Medal, the country’s most notable civilian award, Sept. 19.

Kyi, chairwoman of the National League of Democracy in Myanmar, joked about how she enjoyed her first visit to New York City, where she lived for three years back in the 1960s, and how she never would get lost — even with her self-proclaimed poor sense of direction — because the streets were laid out in a grid pattern.

“She always believed in human rights and the rights of people everywhere,” Crowley said of Kyi, whom he referred to as his personal hero. “We are truly in the presence of greatness.”

In 1989, Kyi was placed under house arrest without being charged or facing trial as she led an opposition movement against the military junta. She remained imprisoned for 15 years and refused to give up her political stance, even in exchange for her freedom. While under house arrest, the NLD party won the country’s first free election in 30 years, but the military still refused to give up power.

“It gives all of us strength and courage and reminds us that faith and perseverance are always rewarded,” Quinn said while speaking in front of the political icon. “We are in your debt every day.”

While fielding questions from Queens College students, Kyi said she found peace in following a strict timetable throughout the week while under house arrest. She said she would wake up and meditate before exercising, reading and listening to news radio to remain involved in political affairs.

“It was like a five-star residence, by Burmese prison standards,” Kyi said.

Kyi was finally freed Nov. 13, 2010, and was elected to the Myanmar parliament earlier this year. In her closing remarks, she urged Queens College students to strive for a well-rounded education, which is not available in her country.

The lack of education has plagued the young people who will be Burma’s next generation’s leaders, she said.

“Education is the foundation of human dignity,” Kyi said. “We have to know how to uphold our human dignity. We must start giving our young people their rightful place in society. We must prepare them.”

Reach reporter Phil Corso by e-mail at pcorso@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4573.

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