Paul Rusesabagina speaks at U about making a difference

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Paul Rusesabagina’s adviser has never given him a wrong answer. In fact, his adviser saved the lives of 1,268 people.

That adviser, as Rusesabagina told the audience he spoke to at Northrop Auditorium on Monday night, is his conscience.

In 1994, amid genocide in Rwanda, Rusesabagina saved 1,268 civilians by providing shelter for them in the hotel he managed, as shown in “Hotel Rwanda,” the 2004 movie based on the situation,.

Rusesabagina said young people always ask him why he risked his life to save those people.

“No one makes such a decision,” he said to the crowd that gave him a standing ovation when he came on stage. “You see yourself in a situation of madness and you do what you think is the right thing.”

Rusesabagina spoke of the power of dialect, and the ability to defy the impossible when one has the mindset that there is always another solution.

Rusesabagina’s autobiography, “An Ordinary Man ,” is also the textbook for a new class for first-year students in the College of Education and Human Development.

Barbara Hodne and Jill Trites are the co-coordinators of the first year experience, a new program for first-year students in the college.

As part of the experience, all first-year students in the college are taking the course, First-Year Inquiry: Multidisciplinary Ways of Knowing. The course, split in to six sections of about 75 students each, focuses on this question: Can one person make a difference?

The faculty teaching the course wanted a common book that dealt with that theme, and Rusesabagina’s autobiography was chosen.

Trites said the students were excited to see Rusesabagina.

“For many of them this is an opportunity to meet someone who has made a difference,” Trites said. “This is a great opportunity for students to learn in a different way than just reading the book.”

Hodne said she was impressed by how much the students have taken to heart his messages about the power of words and the importance of sharing food and treating people with hospitality.

She said the students are relating to the material with the help of their classmates.

“I think many of them thought they were relating to it,” Hodne said. “Sometimes it wasn’t until some of the refugees in our class spoke up, that they really saw the depths of this.”

On Monday, Rusesabagina also spoke of the problems countries in Africa still face.

He said the whole world has its eyes and ears closed to the Rwandans who are butchering millions in the Congo.

He said he went to Darfur with actor Don Cheadle, who portrayed Rusesabagina in the movie, in 2005 and noticed similarities to what happened in Rwanda.

Fue Vang, a student in the first-year inquiry class, said he was surprised by the way Rusesabagina refers to himself.

“He didn’t call himself a hero,” Vang said. “He just called himself a hotel manager who was just trying to help others.”