Tusculum College student Michael Fernando, a senior accounting, general management and economics and international business major from Sri Lanka, has been invited to speak at the 12th annual Youth for Human Rights International (YHRI) summit at the United Nations headquarters in New York City.
He will speak on the topics of freedom, post-war Sri Lanka and youth involvement.
“The purpose of YHRI is to teach youth about human rights, specifically the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and inspire them to become advocates for tolerance and peace,” said Dr. Mary Shuttleworth, founder of YHRI.
YHRI is a global movement that includes hundreds of groups, clubs and chapters across the globe. The organization teaches human rights education in traditional and nontraditional educational settings.
“We are honored to have YHRI Youth Ambassador Michael Rukshan Fernando participate in our 12th International Human Rights Summit that will be held at the United Nation,” said Dr. Shuttleworth. “Michael will participate at the United Nations on both August 27 and 28 in his official capacity as YHRI Youth Ambassador.”
He will be sponsored by Bruce Ferguson, founder and executive director of Ferguson Humanitarian Foundation International, Inc., who is also co-sponsoring the summit.
Fernando began his journey with YHRI in 2009, when he reached out to the nonprofit organization. He was invited to the 2009 YHRI summit in Geneva, Switzerland, where he delivered a speech that received a standing ovation.
Dr. Shuttleworth said, “Michael touched the hearts and minds of young and old during our summit in 2009 with his closing remarks: ‘All my life I have been waiting for an opportunity to inspire the world. I have been searching for a platform on which I can be heard. I believe that this summit serves my purpose, and I am determined to be that beacon of hope. There will be no more suffering. I will bring hope to the hopeless. But above all, I will take the message of love, peace and unity to the world.’”
Following the 2009 summit, Fernando was offered the position of undersecretary general for the Sri Lankan Model United Nations.
Fernando said, “Through that delegation, we brought about a simulation of the United Nations, where youth all across the country and South Asia could attend. We saw about 2,000 delegate participants from India, Pakistan, Malaysia and some from the Middle East as well.”
Later, he served as secretary general, when he and other Sri Lankan delegates started an organization called the One World Volunteers.
“One World Volunteers streamlines the development of a national youth-volunteer network of more than 2,000 high school students in Sri Lanka to help them find volunteer opportunities,” said Fernando. “Sri Lanka did not previously have this.”
At the 2015 summit, Fernando will deliver a speech about what he has accomplished and contributed to the human rights cause since his 2009 speech. He will also be speaking about the concept of freedom having to be free, post-war Sri Lanka and what youth have accomplished since 2009.
“Speaking at the United Nations is a tremendous honor,” said Dr. Nancy B. Moody, president of Tusculum College. “Michael is accomplished in many ways and a shining star at Tusculum. We are proud of him and know he will represent us well.
“Michael has a clear path set ahead of him and has taken every measure to give him the best opportunity to be a successful businessman after graduation. His leadership on campus has benefited the student body, the administration and the college community. He is successful now and will be far into the future.”
Majoring in accounting, general management and economics and international business, Fernando is a recipient of Charles Oliver Gray, Nellie Caldwell and Clements-Mays scholarships. He is also pursuing college honors and business departmental honors.
At Tusculum College, he is the president of the Student Government Association, the Business Club, the Tennessee Intercollegiate State Legislature and the Study Abroad and Global Awareness club. Additionally, he is chairperson of the Student Philanthropy Council, director of Student Entrepreneurship at the college’s Center for Economic Development and Entrepreneurship, a member of the Alpha Chi National Honor Society, a recipient of the 2015 Honors Olympian Award, a residential assistant and a tutor.
“In high school, I was involved with anything and everything but my education, but that all changed when I was offered an opportunity through Tusculum College. I used it as a clean slate. Ever since my first class, it’s been nothing but As,” said Fernando. “I like to take every opportunity that comes to me and continue to perform to the best of my ability so I can prove myself to those who took a chance on me.”
He added, “I am very thankful to the college and its donors for supporting me and everything so far, and in my journey to New York.”
By Stephanie Turner, senior journalism and professional writing major from Shelbyville