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Samuel Ritholtz '14

Advocating for international displaced populations and refugees

In June 2014, our class celebrated its fiftieth reunion and the fiftieth anniversary of our John F. Kennedy Memorial Award. For the first time, the award was conferred in the presence of the class at our Reunion Forum, giving classmates an opportunity to connect first-hand with the newest of a long line of exceptional JFK Award recipients.

This year's winner is Samuel Ritholtz of New City, NY. Sam was an International Agriculture and Rural Development major, with a Development Economics concentration, in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. In addition, he accrued three minors: in Global Health, Africana Studies, and Latin American Studies. He intends to focus all of this study on a life devoted to advocacy on behalf of international displaced populations and refugees. As he wrote in his application, “I recognize the role that the United States has in the international humanitarian community and believe that it can be a leader in promoting positive change in this field.” He also wrote that he learned while volunteering in Tanzania that his role was not to try to save the world but to learn from the people among whom he was living. According to his professors, he learned the lesson well. One of them wrote, “Sam has an impressive capacity to use innovative means to transform great ideas into actions for change toward public good.”

Sam's leadership and service on campus included membership in Quill and Dagger; two years as event coordinator for Project Lansing, mentoring incarcerated youth and designing curricula and staff training; a stint as a SUN opinion columnist writing on ethical questions associated with international volunteer work; and perhaps most notably, four years as President of Big Red Relief. In this capacity Sam raised funds for international humanitarian relief and created and led a service-learning program in Ghana for Cornell students to assist with the activities of Ghana- and UN-based Voices of African Mothers. He continues this project after graduation, with a third visit to Ghana scheduled for this summer.

Sam managed a stellar academic career while busying himself both on campus and off with work and service. He studied in Buenos Aires; interned and volunteered in New York City, supervised counselors at a camp for special needs children in New Jersey, conducted research into flooding in Tanzania and into risky sexual behavior among youth in Bangkok. He is now interning in Washington as part of his commitment as a Truman Foundation Scholar. The scholarship will pay his costs as he pursues a PhD/JD to contribute to the body of knowledge on refugees and to protect and support the human rights of displaced populations. His referees call him polite, kind, considerate, compassionate – and brilliant.

Our JFK Award recipients are nurtured in one of the world's great universities. Sam writes, “Throughout my Cornell career, I have developed into a critical thinker that still wishes to make a change in the world. I thank Cornell for always challenging me to hold myself accountable and to improve my own work.”

And we thank Cornell for continuing to turn out exceptional students like Sam. The Class wishes him all good fortune in the years ahead.