Ali Soufan, Mansfield University & a “Small Beam of Light”

I covered my 50th Mansfield University commencement recently.  Over the years the speakers have melted into a quiet mumble of forgotten words.

But Saturday’s speaker, Ali Soufan,  hit home in a personal way.  The  former FBI Agent was lead investigator in the USS Cole bombing,  He was a key investigator after the 9/11 attacks, an Al-Qaeda expert and one of the FBI’s lead counter terrorism investigators.
He interrogated suspected terrorists,  and partly because he speaks Arabic, partly because he took the time to understand religious beliefs, and partly because he treated them as humans, they often talked.

The FBI called Soufan a “national treasure.”  Others called him an “American hero.”

He left the FBI n 2005 and created his own international security firm. Later, when various officials defended “enhanced interrogation”  as a means to obtaining information, Soufan came forward and denounced torture. He testified at the 2009 Senate Judicial Hearings on torture,  providing facts that others sought to ignore. He wrote an op-ed piece in The New York Times and has been quoted by Time and Newsweek.

He came up against anyone who defended torture, including the Vice President of the United States.

Soufan doesn’t do it for the publicity, though he was profiled in a long piece in The New Yorker.

He does it for the sake of truth, for what he believes in.
“My service to our country has put me in difficult situations,” Soufan told the MU audience.  “I’ve seen man at his worst, and man at his best.  I can tell you that in the darkest of moments, there are those who provide a light.  Never forget that a small beam of light is enough to overpower a whole room of darkness.  Never underestimate the impact that you alone, sticking to your principles, can have.”
Inspirational words  are expected at commencements, but Soufan has earned the right to share them.  He’s put himself in  danger more than once because of his principles.

And it struck me like never before that, yes, each student sitting here, waiting to cross the stage, pick up his or her diploma and enter the world, can make a difference.

Why did this speaker’s words ring so true?

Because in 1994 Ali Soufan sat in this same spot, crossed the stage, accepted his diploma, and entered the world.


6 responses to “Ali Soufan, Mansfield University & a “Small Beam of Light”

  1. As a music major at Mansfield, I had very little opportunity to interact with the non-music portion of campus, but I remember Soufan. I remember his campaign posters being everywhere and that he traveled in a pack. There was always activity when Ali Soufan and his group entered a space. Knowing how his life has changed from those relatively care-free days to the burdens he carried years later weighs heavily.

    One day, just a few years after Ali crossed the stage, accepted his diploma, and entered the world, I did the same. And when I read your post, I couldn’t help but feel thanked for the light I’ve provided. I had forgotten that I glow.

  2. Thanks for your memories and your thoughtful comment, Jen. If you’re ever back on campus, please stop in and see me.

  3. Tonight I just saw a small beam of light and of course my dad saw the same thing. and well it was there for about 30 min. He walked out to the window and said hey Trisha it’s not there anymore?? So I walked outside the door and looked for about 2 min. then I looked all around me and I hadn’t seen it so I looked about 2 houses down and I saw… a really bright light and it was red it was more like a flash and then i pictured the beam of light that I had just seen and remembered that it to was red. But that was not the crazy thing…!? It was that I looked up in the sky and saw a electric light pole and blinked twice and it was gone. could this be a sign that aliens are real???? This is a true story swear to GOD… and I would not be on here if it was not a true story. Thanks a lot and hope you can help me!

  4. What an inspirational story! It didn’t take very long for Mr.Soufan to make a difference in this country and that should give a lot of people hope. Hope for a better future! I hear a lot of people voice their opinions against torture but they are not involved in doing anything about it. Mr.Soufan is proof that we too can be effective without being aggressive!


  5. This is great information. I appreciate the sincere appreciation. Thank you.

    Great tips! Great organization and ideas. Thanks!


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