Much has changed in the days since Maria Ressa joined Julia Wolfe on stage at Richardson Auditorium on Feb. 19 as they accepted the University’s highest honors for alumni. Maria’s message – to the students following in her footsteps at Toms River North High School and to the Alumni Day audience – has taken on an even greater urgency and poignancy for me as I watch Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and effort to undermine its democracy:
“Without facts, you can’t have truth. Without truth, you can’t have trust. Without these, we have no shared reality, no rule of law, no democracy.”
Maria’s rallying cry is global, but it is also deeply individual. She spoke about how Princeton’s Honor Code has been foundational for her, in the values she brings to her media organization, Rappler, and as she rallies fellow journalists to fight for facts and the freedom of the press. At its core, the Honor Code is about individual accountability and responsibility. That’s where change begins.
Roots are important to Maria, too, as she told Katherine Dailey of the Daily Princetonian on the drive back to campus from Toms River:
“I like going back to Princeton because you walk in the steps of your old self. So this is a much younger, more insecure person whose shoes that I walked into… So coming back to high school was like stepping in the shoes of my high school self, when I was trying to figure out what to do with my life…”
And she pays it forward – whether through sitting down with the Daily Princetonian, meeting with students from her high school alma mater, or pushing for 7 court approvals and flying half-way around the world to attend Alumni Day.
Maria’s voice also resonates on a very personal level for me — whose mom emigrated from China and raised me as a single parent. Maria told the students at Toms River how she was very shy, barely speaking English, when she started at the school. “There was a devil on my shoulder, pounding me to do well, to prove that I belong.” But something she learned playing basketball at Toms River gave her the determination to persevere:
“Face your fear – touch, hold, and embrace it. If you take the sting out of your fear you are unstoppable.”
And there is no stopping Maria Ressa.
Deputy Vice President for Communications