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Anna Halpine '09 M.A.R.: Crusading for human dignity

By Ian Skoggard ’08 M.Div.

Last September Anna Halpine ’09 M.A.R. turned 30 and found herself out of a job—one that she had created for herself, but with a stipulated age limit of 30. Halpine was president of the World Youth Alliance, an organization she started at the United Nations in 1999 when she was 21 for people in their teens and twenties. Today the World Youth Alliance (WYA) has 1,000,000 members from 100 nationalities around the world.

Anna HalpineThe organization’s charter states, “World Youth Alliance is committed to building free and just societies through a culture of life...that affirms the inalienable dignity of the person, defends the intrinsic right to life, nurtures the family, and fosters a social climate favorable to integral development, solidarity, and mutual respect.”

The idea of the “dignity of the person” is one that has inspired Halpine throughout her adult life and motivated her to come to YDS to further explore the concept of dignity and the philosophical and theological principles surrounding it. She is pursuing a Master of Arts in Religion with a concentration in philosophy and will study music at YDS’s partner institution, the Yale Institute of Sacred Music.
 
It was Halpine’s love of music that by chance catapulted her onto the stage of a global youth movement. She had come to New York City from Toronto, Canada to study piano at the Taubman Institute. Once there, she was invited by friends to attend a conference on population and development at the United Nations.

The day she visited, the conference was held hostage by a small group of youth demanding, on behalf of the world’s three billion youth, abortion as a human right, sexual rights for children and a deletion of parent’s rights. Anna and her friends returned the next day and, in an action of conscience, distributed flyers proclaiming that the small group of youth who had held up the proceedings the day before did not represent all of the world’s youth. The much-relieved conference organizers embraced Halpine, asked her to have a presence at the UN, and invited her to their countries to talk with their youth. That was the beginning of Halpine’s globetrotting organizing efforts building up the WYA (http://www.wya.net).

“We (Western youth) have been given everything,” Halpine said, “yet it is not enough, we want more!  We have more time, more money, but less meaning.  Something needs to be fixed.”  She believes raising up the idea of human dignity will help because it lets young people know that “their life is worth more than they ever imagined, and they are called to greatness.”

In 2000, Halpine attended the global conference on women in Beijing and began to question the whole premise of gender equality based on parity, not dignity, and on a corporate ladder model of achievement. For example, the 50/50 laws in France guarantee women job parity with men. What if “women did not necessarily want the jobs?” Halpine asks.  And to base dignity on rights, Halpine argues, “places the definition of the person in the hands of the state,” threatening the whole human rights project.”
 
At Yale, Halpine is working on developing what she terms the  “modern proposal of the human person” and exploring “how it maps out in culture and policy.” Yale’s emphasis on cross-disciplinary collaboration, leadership, non-profit involvement, and government policy provides an ideal setting for the work of Halpine, who reports that people at Yale have been very receptive to her ideas about the dignity of the person.

Halpine’s father once commented on her musical talent by saying, “You are more like a conductor. You pull things together and are a leader of groups.” Indeed, that is where Halpine feels her talents lie: “to identify and articulate a vision, then convince people to work on it.”  It is an exciting project for Halpine, and, undoubtedly, for those around her.

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