By Mariam Aburdeineh and Buzz McClain
For 21 straight nights, graduating senior Yasser Aburdene spent his evenings protesting in front of the Bolivian Embassy in Washington, D.C., fighting for democracy in the midst of a controversial election victory by Evo Morales. He had no idea his advocacy would land him in the spotlight at one of the most historic sites for human rights.
The nightly protests earlier this fall made the Bolivian native familiar to organizers who staged a November rally. Representing the youth of his country, Aburdene was selected to speak on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial before a chanting crowd of 10,000 people, facing a bank of cameras, with a large Bolivian flag behind him.
“A lot of people my age forget where we come from,” said Aburdene, whose speech focused on unifying Bolivia’s disparate races and reminded the audience that political change would come. “My goal right now is to remind people that our parents fought for our democracy, our grandparents did this.”
The politically minded 24-year-old government and international politics major aspires to one day run for elected office in Virginia and to eventually represent Bolivia as an ambassador. While he’s adopted the commonwealth as his new home—he’s lived in Virginia since emigrating with his father and brother at age 17—he remains passionate about Bolivian freedoms.
Morales resigned on Nov. 10, but there is still work to be done, Aburdene said. He will continue to protest for peace, stability and democracy, and he recently co-founded the organization New Generation of Bolivians, a bilingual news outlet focusing on Bolivian politics.
“The greater impact [of my advocacy] is showing people that there’s always something they can do,” Aburdene said. “We all have a purpose, so always engage with what you’re doing, always fight for what’s right.”
“Yasser’s work with the protest movement is a wonderful example of how Mason students are able to bridge the divide between classroom education and real-world political action,” said Edward Rhodes, one of Aburdene’s professors at the Schar School of Policy and Government. “His activities are combining his passion and energy, his commitment to the future of Bolivia, and the skills and insights developed here at Mason.”
Mason was Aburdene’s first-choice college; he wanted to be near the action in Washington, D.C., he said. From influential professors to student organizations dedicated to making a difference, “I love how Mason is always engaged with the community,” Aburdene said.
His time at Mason has been action-packed. A member of the Pi Kappa Phi fraternity, Aburdene is also a member of Mason’s College Republicans and the Young Americans for Liberty organization, and he volunteers with Americans for Prosperity. After his December graduation, the first-generation college student will look for work with local nonprofits as he gears up to study for a master’s degree and eventually a PhD, he said.
“I’m passionate—my purpose was always to make a difference,” Aburdene said, adding that his advocacy work never feels like a burden. “I’m doing something I love, and I’m doing something for the greater future of my country.”