Address by Paul Soros
Presented for Doctor of Laws by Catharine R. Stimpson H’90, Trustee
President Hansen, members of the Bates Board of Trustees, faculty, parents, and fellow graduates of the Class of 2005:
My wife and I are delighted to be numbered among your ranks. In the brief time I have to comment, my theme relates to the quality of American life that needs your vigilance and commitment to protect. It is a quality that I fear Americans, especially young Americans, take for granted.
A little background: I was born and raised in Hungary. In the 1930s and 1940s I successively lived under the fascists (I survived Holocaust when my entire family broke up so we could each live separately under false identities), a brief time as a Soviet prisoner of war, and then under Communism until I managed to escape from behind the Iron Curtain.
By that time, I was set for life in my distaste for authoritarianism of either the right or the left. Ever since coming to the United States in 1948, I have been very aware and appreciative of living in a free country, with a free press, and where arbitrary rules did not limit my movements or opportunities, and where what I was did not matter, only what I did.
A free society doesn’t just happen. It is the product of a long tradition of committed citizens over time protecting the rights of individuals against oppression by governments. And the United States is fortunate in having the ground rules for such a society in the Constitution with its checks and balances, and the Bill of Rights. We tend to take our rights for granted, but they are under siege from governments eager for more power to deal with the problems of the moment, and people of good will and faith who want to impose on society their beliefs and convictions.
The rule of law and the freedom from arbitrary government actions is one of the great gifts you and I have been given. If there is anything I want you to remember from these brief moments, [it is that] a major measure of your life as a citizen is the degree to which you protect the openness of American society. The price of liberty, indeed, is eternal vigilance. Thank you, Bates College, for this great honor.