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High School Student Leaders

Upstanders - High School Students

High School Student Human Rights Institute

This popular event attracts students and educators from Westchester County and the Hudson Valley, and Fairfield County CT high schools, as dynamic keynote speakers cover important topics including human rights abuses and injustices, and the importance of youth leadership in confronting prejudice and discrimination.

Our High School Student Institute is intended to further our mission by promoting student awareness of human rights issues on both local and global levels, and to empower students to be Upstanders by creating and implementing Action Plans in their schools and communities.

Small-group workshops led by experienced student facilitators encourage frank discussion. Participating schools encourage and help their students to produce an activist response to some appropriate human rights cause.

Schools must be registered to participate.

For more information, please contact Jeanne Claire Cotnoir, HHREC Coordinator of Student Programming at jcotnoir@hhrecny.org or call 914.696.0738.

2023 High School Human Rights Institute 

On Wednesday, March 15, 31 schools in Westchester County and the greater Hudson Valley area participated in our 21st Human Rights Institute at Iona University. A total of 400 students and teachers listened to a powerful keynote presentation by Sheila Arnold, portraying civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer in the morning and attended 20 different workshops facilitated by juniors and seniors (65 in total) who attended the Institute in 2021 and 2022.

Sophomores attended two workshops on a variety of current human rights issues including: the crisis in Yemen, environmental racism in the United States, women’s rights issues in Afghanistan and Iran, voting rights, refugees and asylum seekers, rise of Asian hated during the pandemic, conditions of First Nation Reservations in the US, mental health issues in teens, and human trafficking.

Michael Gyory, Chairman of the Board of Directors of the HHREC and a member of our GenerationsForward Speakers Bureau , presented the story of his Hungarian Olympic gymnast cousin, Agi Keleti: The Jewish Olympian’s Story of Survival and Triumph.

Recent Keynote Speakers:

2023

Sheila Arnold
Historic Character Interpreter

Michael Gyory
GenerationsForward Memory Keeper

2022

Judith Altman

Holocaust Survivor

Peter Westbrook

Olympic Fencing Champion

2021

R. Derek Black 
The subject of Eli Saslow's book, Rising Out of Hatred: The Awakening of a Former White Nationalist

2020

R. Derek Black 
The subject of Eli Saslow's book, Rising Out of Hatred: The Awakening of a Former White Nationalist

2019

Carl Wilkens
Founder World Outside My Shoes, author I'm Not Leaving

2018

Scarlett Lewis
Executive Director
Jesse Lewis Choose Love Foundation

2017

Danielle Butin
Executive Director
AFYA Foundation

"I am grateful I was able to take part in the Human Rights Institute and explore human rights issues with a knowledgeable group of peers who shared their own unique perspective with me. Through the student-led workshops, I learned that many human rights issues are interconnected. For example, education in developing third world countries is not accessible to many people, in part because many women and children have to walk long distances daily to get water due to water scarcity, which is also seen on a global scale. My favorite part of the conference, however, was hearing the guest speakers. I am especially glad I was able to hear Peter Westbrook and Judith Altmann speak about their own inspiring and harrowing experiences. Mr. Westbrook, an accomplished African-American and Japanese fencer, shared with us his story of perseverance, persistence, and positivity through his struggles. His caring and empowering nature continues to help young athletes, among others, to find their purpose and power in life. It was even more humbling and moving to receive a firsthand account of Ms. Altmann's journey through the Holocaust. She went through so much, yet instead of putting her memories away, she shared them with us in order to raise awareness and prevent anyone else from going through the hate and discrimination she faced. Hearing her story directly, as opposed to learning about the Holocaust in general terms, was stirring. She recounted to us her starvation, especially during the death march, and how she and her niece were able to eat a couple handfuls of grass to fill their stomachs because an SS woman looked the other way. Mr. Westbrook and Ms. Altmann's bravery and endurance through their struggles, and their missions to help others, has shown me all the ways I can help promote human rights. I hope to take advantage of what I learned and experienced during the conference to strengthen my community and do my part to improve the world."

Eileen Weisner, New Rochelle High School 

"I felt that the songs and personal stories [from the keynote speakers] shared in today's program were very effective. This showed how much the speakers were connected to and cared about their cause. This helped me feel connected and want to make even more of a change [in the world]."

- Alexander Hamilton High School 10th Grade Student

"...I learned that all people are different and small things can make the world a better place... My assumptions about people are wrong; I need to rise above judgements and now I can... An average person can make a difference."

- Carmel High School 10th Grade Student