Stories to Make You Feel Great About America

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Here are two stories that will leave even the most committed cynic slack-jawed in wonder at America's promise, and also make you wonder if the people who think we should close our borders to immigrants are total idiots. (h/t Andrew Exum on the first story, Scott Stossel on the second).
This is from the AP, via Stars and Stripes:

NEW HAVEN, Conn. -- Orlando Morel was 6 years old when he and his mother left Haiti on a crowded small wooden boat destined for America. Now 24, Morel remembers the blue of the ocean everywhere. And the hunger.

When a piece of bread fell into the water, Morel quickly scooped it up. "I will never forget that taste," he said, recalling the salty, soggy bread.

Nor will he forget when the Coast Guard showed up in a white boat and rescued him, his mother and other passengers.

Eternally grateful, the rescue led Morel to join the Coast Guard, and on Wednesday he will graduate from the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in Connecticut. He will serve on a cutter out of Florida whose mission will include migrant interdiction in the very waters where Morel was rescued nearly two decades ago.

"I can put myself in their shoes," said Morel, who can still speak Creole.

He says he would probably be dead had the Coast Guard not found him and his fellow migrants, who were lost and out of food. So, he's excited at the prospect of saving lives, just as his was saved.

"I don't think that anything I can do will be enough as payback," Morel said.

Read the whole thing; it's astonishing. Here's the second piece, from The Los Angeles Times:

NEW YORK-- For years, Gac Filipaj mopped floors, cleaned toilets and took out the trash at Columbia University.

A refugee from war-torn Yugoslavia, he eked out a living at the Ivy League school. But Sunday was payback time: The 52-year-old janitor donned a cap and gown to graduate with a bachelor's degree in classics.

As a Columbia employee, his classes were free. His favorite subject was the Roman philosopher and statesman Seneca, he said during a break from his work at Lerner Hall, the student union building he cleans.

"I love Seneca's letters because they're written in the spirit in which I was educated in my family: not to look for fame and fortune, but to have a simple, honest, honorable life," he said.

His graduation with honors capped a dozen years of study, including readings in ancient Latin and Greek.

"This is a man with great pride, whether he's doing custodial work or academics," said Peter Awn, dean of Columbia's School of General Studies and professor of Islamic studies. "He is immensely humble and grateful, but he's one individual who makes his own future."

Filipaj, now an American citizen, was accepted at Columbia after learning English. His mother tongue is Albanian.

An ethnic Albanian and Roman Catholic, he fled Montenegro in 1992 as a brutal civil war loomed. He was about to be drafted into the Yugoslav army led by Serbs, many of whom considered Albanians their enemy. He had nearly finished law school in Belgrade.:
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Jeffrey Goldberg is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and a recipient of the National Magazine Award for Reporting. He is the author of Prisoners: A Story of Friendship and Terror. More

Before joining The Atlantic in 2007, Goldberg was a Middle East correspondent, and the Washington correspondent, for The New Yorker. He was previouslly a correspondent for The New York Times Magazine and New York magazine. He has also written for the Jewish Daily Forward and was a columnist for The Jerusalem Post.

Goldberg's book Prisoners was hailed as one of the best books of 2006 by the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Slate, The Progressive, Washingtonian magazine, and Playboy. He received the 2003 National Magazine Award for Reporting for his coverage of Islamic terrorism and the 2005 Anti-Defamation League Daniel Pearl Prize. He is also the winner of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists prize for best international investigative journalist; the Overseas Press Club award for best human-rights reporting; and the Abraham Cahan Prize in Journalism.

In 2001, Goldberg was appointed the Syrkin Fellow in Letters of the Jerusalem Foundation, and in 2002 he became a public-policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C.

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