President's Blog

Freedom and Learning Forum welcomes Cuban journalist Yoani Sánchez


Robert Jarvik, an American physician who invented an artificial heart, once said, “Leaders are visionaries with a poorly developed sense of fear, and no concept of the odds against them.”

I just met a person who passes the Jarvik test in spades. And if you join me at the Freedom and Learning Forum from 4:30 to 6:15 p.m. Tuesday, March 17 in the Hub Ballroom on the Fairfax Campus, you will have a chance to meet her, too.

Her name is Yoani Sánchez. She is an acclaimed blogger, journalist, and entrepreneur from a country where none of those activities is an obvious career choice.

I had hoped to meet her four years ago when I attended the International Women of Courage Awards, honors that then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and First Lady Michelle Obama presented to Sánchez and nine other amazing women. Unfortunately, Sánchez was not permitted to travel to Washington to pick up her award. That was one of the hazards of insisting to speak and write her mind.

A University of Havana graduate in Philology, she emigrated to Switzerland in 2002 with her family, only to return to Cuba two years later, promising herself to live there as a free person. In 2007, she began Generación Y, her personal blog about daily life in Cuba, which resulted in her arrest and detainment. (She now teaches courses on how to write a blog when you have no access to the Internet…yes, it can be done!).

In 2009, President Obama applauded her efforts to “empower fellow Cubans to express themselves through the use of technology.” Time magazine listed her as one of the World’s 100 Most Influential People, stating that “under the nose of a regime that has never tolerated dissent, Sánchez has practiced what paper-bound journalists in her country cannot: freedom of speech.” Foreign Policy magazine has named her one of the Top 100 Global Thinkers.

In May of 2014, Sánchez combined her passion for journalism and digital media to launch 14ymedio, Cuba’s first independent daily digital news outlet. It serves as a fresh voice on the island, with exclusive national news, highlighting not only political and economic developments but also social and cultural activities.

Sánchez has received much international recognition for her work, including the Ortega y Gasset Prize, Spain’s highest award for digital journalism; the Maria Moors Cabot Prize from Columbia University; the World Press Freedom Hero Award from the International Press Institute; and the Prince Claus Award from the Netherlands.

Now she will have a new honor: George Mason University’s inaugural Freedom and Learning Award.

Bienvenida a la “Nación Mason,” Yoani, como cariñosamente nos referimos a nuestra comunidad, unida bajo el lema: libertad y aprendizaje.