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Claire Lynch

College: Macaulay Honors College | City College
Awards: Truman Scholarship, 2017

Speaking the Language(s) on a Path to Aiding Refugees

Sometimes the stage for life is set at an early age. Take Claire Lynch's path toward her prestigious 2017 Harry S. Truman Scholarship, which began with her chance acceptance into the first class of a dual-language elementary school, where she was among 50 English speakers to join 50 Spanish speakers.

"Learning Spanish and being part of a heavily Hispanic immigrant community was foundational for me," says Lynch, a junior at Macaulay Honors College at City College. That background started in working with staff in her mother's catering business at 11 or 12 and primed her for a far more challenging language, Arabic. "The way Arabic is constructed, the history and the social norms, the Islamic history that's present in the language, and the linguistics are so interesting."

The federally funded and highly competitive Truman Scholarship provides up to $30,000 for graduate study leading to a career in public service. She intends to apply her experience in grassroots advocacy and public policy, along with her knowledge of languages, to the needs of immigrants and refugees. "I'm really interested in pursuing a job that will give me hands-on experience in the field," such as working with immigrants, perhaps in refugee camps.

As an activist, she has worked throughout New York State as a board member of the New York Public Interest Research Group, including tutoring immigrants for citizenship tests, helping refugees and working on homelessness in New York City. From the policy perspective, she directs the City College chapter of the Roosevelt Institute, a student-run policy think tank that seeks to involve students in the political process.

Lynch majors in both political science and Jewish Studies - "I'm Irish-Catholic," she adds. Through City College, she traveled to Morocco in her sophomore year and Italy in her junior year "to learn about the political, social and economic dynamics between the Jewish and Muslim communities." She also studied in Amman, Jordan, in the winter of 2017.

She participates in the Colin Powell Fellowship in Leadership and Public Service, an intensive two-year program for undergraduates at City College, and she interned in Washington, D.C., with New York Sen. Chuck Schumer through CUNY's Edward T. Rogowsky Internship Program in Government and Public Affairs.

At the moment, she's thinking of taking a gap year after graduation, perhaps to use her European Union citizenship, which is a benefit of her grandparents being Irish, to teach in Spain. And then there's the prospect of a dream graduate school at The School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London, where she could dive deep into Arabic and Islamic culture. "There are great opportunities all around," she says.